Catholic Church

Mainland's pastoral needs are our priority, says cleric

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2007, 12:00am

The relationship between the Catholic Church on the mainland and in Hong Kong has reached a new stage a decade after the handover, where religious exchanges can benefit both in church developments, a leader of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese said.

But vicar-general Dominic Chan Chi-ming said the Hong Kong church would not consider importing mainland priests to help address a shortage because pastoral needs for the millions of faithful on the mainland were more pressing.

Father Chan said the relaxation of travel regulations and the opening up of the mainland church in recent years had led to more exchanges between mainland and Hong Kong Catholics.

'We have reached a new stage of pastoral exchange. Members of the mainland church can visit Hong Kong more freely. In the past, only we could visit them.

'They should not [take] home a direct copy of the Hong Kong experience. Not all the things they learned in Hong Kong are suitable on the mainland. We hope in this latest stage of relationship we can also learn from them,' Father Chan said.

Since the 1980s, the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese has been helping the mainland church with theological training for priests, with funds to rebuild churches and the administrative knowledge to run dioceses. But the relationship has changed 10 years after the handover, as the mainland church gradually develops.

Father Chan said one main lesson the Hong Kong Catholics could learn from their mainland counterparts was the strong faith and loyalty to the Pope held by many despite political pressure.

But despite rapidly growing numbers, the mainland church is plagued by the split between those under the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which administers the dioceses, and the underground Catholics loyal to Rome.

Father Chan said time was needed for the mainland church to mature amid negotiations between the Vatican and Beijing to resume diplomatic relations.

'The Hong Kong diocese has already taken many steps ahead in church development, while they are still walking the steps we have already gone through. They need a lot of time to mature. It cannot be forced.'

But amid the shortage of priests in Hong Kong, Father Chan said there was no plan to invite mainland missionaries to preach in the city because development of the mainland church was a priority.

'Although we lack religious vocations, the mainland church has bigger needs,' he said. An average of one or two new priests are ordained each year. The Hong Kong diocese, which has more than 240,000 members, relies heavily on foreign missionaries to keep the church running.

There are about 70 local Chinese priests from the diocese running the 54 parishes in Hong Kong, while the remainder of the 300 clergy are mainly members of other Catholic religious orders and missionary groups.

In recent years, due to the fall in the number of religious vocations in the Catholic Church in the west, the diocese has invited more missionaries from Asia-Pacific countries, such as South Korea and Indonesia, to preach in Hong Kong.