Late pope's relic finds home in HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2011, 12:00am


A lock of hair from the late Pope John Paul II will be kept permanently at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Caine Road, after the Vatican approved a request from the Hong Kong Diocese, Catholic officials said yesterday.

Speaking earlier this month when the relic arrived in Hong Kong, Bishop John Tong Hon said millions of mainland worshippers could visit the city to pray in the presence of the lock of hair. Its arrival symbolically completed the pope's lifelong wish to visit China, he said.

John Paul repeatedly said he wanted to visit China, but never made the trip. He died in 2005.

Encased in a special container for relics, the lock of hair is now in place inside the church, near the remains of five deceased Hong Kong bishops.

The relic came months after Sino-Vatican ties soured, with the Vatican excommunicating mainland bishops ordained by the Chinese state-run church without papal approval. It took just one month for the Vatican - the governing body of all Catholic churches around the world - to approve Bishop Tong's application for the lock of hair, according to the diocese.

'It may be because we are a Chinese city and Hong Kong people are familiar with the [late] pope,' Vicar General Dominic Chan Chi-ming said yesterday of the swift approval.

Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai expects the relic to attract frequent visits by mainland worshippers, which can strengthen their connection with Rome. It was not necessary to inform Beijing of the matter, he said, as the arrangement was 'purely religious'.

'Politics should be isolated from faith,' he said.

With relations strained between Beijing and Vatican, mainlanders can worship only in state-backed churches, but such restrictions do not apply in Hong Kong under the 'one country, two systems' policy.

The Vatican has seen controls tighten over its mainland churches this year and a crackdown against underground churches.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre, said the arrival of the relic had cultural rather than political significance. 'The relic is precious. It is to strengthen faith,' Lam said.

This makes Hong Kong the only Chinese city in possession of a relic of the late pope, who had told followers during his reign that he would pray for China every day. Chan said it is also the first Asian city to house such a prized artefact.

In February the local church received a hand bone from St John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order, according to Lam.

Polish-born Pope John Paul, whose charisma is credited with rejuvenating the Catholic Church during his 27-year pontificate, was beatified early this year.

That brought the much-respected pope one step closer to sainthood. Earlier this year, a vial of his blood was installed as a relic in a Polish church. Some of his relics are now on five months' loan to Mexico.

Hong Kong, which has about 246,000 Catholics, has not had a papal visit since Pope Paul VI came in 1970. The Catholic Church in Hong Kong was established as a mission prefecture in 1841 and became a diocese about 100 years later.