Summer 2018 Vol. 38 - No. 189 Impact of New Media on the Church in China

Bishop Francis Hsu and the Foundation of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

Jeffrey Chang

        Initial stirrings for what would become the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) may be traced back to the Second Vatican Council. Valerian Cardinal Gracias, of Bombay, lndia, observed that bishops from Asia did not know one another well before gathering together in Rome for the ecumenical council. Most Asian bishops had better contacts with parts of the West, especially with their respective missionary sponsors, than with other parts of Asia.[1] Traveling to attend the first session of the Council, Hong Kong's diocesan bishop, Lorenzo Bianchi [白英奇], P.I.M.E. (1899-1983), first visited his Italian birthplace, Corteno, where he ordained a nephew to the priesthood for the diocese of Brescia.[2] At the Council, Bishop Bianchi experienced a deep conversion, appreciating the need for the Church to change, and he communicated that enthusiasm to the Hong Kong priests and faithful.[3] Among those priests was Francis Xavier Hsu Chen-Ping [徐誠斌] (1920-1973), who would be appointed auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, in June 1967. In the spirit of Vatican II, desiring the Chinese clergy to assume leadership of the diocese, foreign missionary Bishop Bianchi resigned in November 1968, just shy of 70 years of age. In May 1969, Bishop Hsu, who was already administering the diocese, received formal appointment as diocesan bishop. In addition to serving as the first ethnic Chinese bishop of Hong Kong, Francis Hsu would also offer a singular contribution to the echoes of the Second Vatican Council in Asia and the founding of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.

        Hong Kong was located at a crossroads within Asia, as well as between Asia and the West, and Bishop Francis Hsu was well-suited for the communications necessary for collaboration among the Asian bishops. Hsu had grown up in cosmopolitan Shanghai, where he received an English education and a degree in journalism at St. John's University. After reporting on China for an English press agency, he then taught English at Fudan University. Subsequently, he obtained a grant from the British Council for study at the University of Oxford, where he obtained a B. Litt. in English language and literature at Merton College. In 1948 he returned to China and accepted a teaching post at Nanjing Central University. He entered the Catholic Church, receiving baptism, with the baptismal name Francis, just before the communist army entered Nanjing. In 1950 he was able to go to Hong Kong, where he stayed and discerned a vocation to the priesthood, studying Latin and saving funds for priestly formation.[4] In 1955 he went to Rome for studies at Beda College, the English-speaking seminary for late vocations, and was ordained in Rome, 1959. Upon returning to Hong Kong, he was appointed editor of the Kung Kao Po [公教報], the diocesan newspaper. Among other responsibilities, he also directed the Catholic Centre and the Catholic Truth Society, as well as serving on the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission and directing the Diocesan Public Relations Office before his appointment as auxiliary bishop.“By his education he was a man at home in two cultures, Chinese and western. He was a master of style in writing Chinese and he wrote English with absolute sureness and accuracy.”[5] Later, Stephen Cardinal Kim, archbishop of Seoul, Korea, Kim would explicitly cite Hsu's fluency in English when explaining his role in drafting the statutes of what would become the FABC.[6] Hsu's experience studying in both Oxford and Rome also surely helped his interactions at international gatherings. At a May 1969 meeting in Rome, he was elected vice president of Caritas International, and also met personally with Pope Paul VI who appointed him diocesan bishop of Hong Kong.[7] Since the FABC would emerge and develop in communion with the Holy See, such personal contacts could only help.

        In 1969, interest by Asian bishops in establishing a structure for fostering greater ongoing communication and cooperation among the Asian local churches also took a step forward. As one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council, the First Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops convened a select group of bishops in Rome, 11-28 October 1969, to discuss“Cooperation between the Holy See and Episcopal Conferences.”During the Synod, the presidents of 13 Asian episcopal conferences also met separately to discuss desires for their cooperation in Asia. On 21 October 1969, at the Coleggio Filipino, with Cardinal Gracias, as senior Asian Cardinal presiding, they agreed to convene a meeting, in Manila, of all the Asian episcopal conferences. In the next preparatory stage, nine presidents of respective Asian episcopal conferences met in Manila, 2-4 April 1970.[8] Their caucus was within a meeting with 18 representatives from different episcopal conferences in Asia.[9] These meetings set the stage for a meeting of the bishops of Asia, in Asia.

        About 180 Asian bishops gathered for the Asian Bishop's Meeting (ABM), 23-29 November 1970, in Manila. The Asian bishops convened this time, with Bishop Hsu among them, on Asian soil, and Pope Paul VI visited and expressed his intention“to take part in the deliberations of the Conference of the bishops of the whole of Eastern Asia.”[10] With these preparations, the proposal to found what would become the FABC was first voiced formally and approved by the Asian bishops.[11] After the daily ABM sessions, several bishops who were strongly interested in a permanent Asian bishops' organisation convened at Xavier House, hosted by Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ. Bishop Hsu was in that group. Stephen Cardinal Kim presented the proposal at a meeting attended by Pope Paul VI, and Bishop Hsu provided further explanation. This would not be the last time that Cardinal Kim and Bishop Hsu collaborated in the foundation of an organisational structure for the Asian episcopacy and the churches of Asia. Before returning to Rome, the Pope also visited Hong Kong, on 4 December 1970, with Bishop Hsu at his side.

        The Asian Bishops' Meeting issued a Message and passed Resolutions for establishing ongoing cooperation among the Asian local churches, and Hong Kong would have a key role in subsequent developments. The first resolution of the Asian Bishops' Meeting affirmed the desire for establishing structures of communion for the Asian Church:

“It has been agreed:

        This resolution was further specified in a set of “Resolutions on Structures” which included establishment of a Central Committee and a Central Secretariat. In addition to agreeing to the nature and functions of the secretariat, the Asian Bishops Meeting offered guidelines regarding its location:

“The Central Secretariat shall be located in an Asian city which is, as far as possible, geographically central to the region, and at the same time where the Secretary General will have easy access to the specialists and the international agencies upon whose collaboration he will depend. In the opinion of the Meeting, the city which best meets these specifications is Manila.”[13]

        After the Asian Bishops' Meeting, that Secretariat would, in fact, be established in Hong Kong, another centrally-located Asian city and the one in which Francis Hsu was bishop. The Resolutions emphasised that the Central Secretariat was to be“a service agency,”relying not on juridical authority but on service, communications, and cooperation.[14] Coincidentally, Hsu's episcopal motto was Laetus Serviam, which may be interpreted as“I will serve with joy”or“I am happy to be of service.”[15] The establishment of a Central Secretariat was considered, even then, to be the most lasting effect of the ABM.[16] The service which it would render was invaluable in the establishment and development of the FABC. At the Asian Bishops' Meeting, the final resolution on structures specified that the first meeting of the Central Committee would be held in March 1971, in Hong Kong.[17] Bishop Hsu was mandated to convene that meeting of episcopal conference presidents.[18] Hong Kong does not belong to any particular regional episcopal conference and would thus participate in the FABC as an associate member. That special status may also have suited Hsu well for serving as a coordinator and intermediary among the various Asian episcopal conferences.

        Under Bishop Hsu's organisation, the first Asian bishops' Central Committee meeting took place, in March 1971, at the Maryknoll House in Stanley, Hong Kong. The presidents of 11 Asian episcopal conferences participated: Valerian Cardinal Gracias, of India, who presided over this meeting; Stephen Cardinal Kim, of South Korea; Thomas Cardinal Cooray, of Sri Lanka; Justinus Cardinal Darmojuwono, of Indonesia; Archbishop Paul Y. Taguchi, of Japan; Archbishop Teopisto V. Alberto, of the Philippines; Archbishop Joseph Kuo, of Taiwan; Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh, of Vietnam; Bishop E. Loosdregt, of Laos and Cambodia; Bishop Anthony D. Galvin, of Malaysia; and Bishop Robert R. Bamrungtrankul, of Thailand.[19] The meeting discussed an organisational structure for the Asian bishops, and they selected a committee to draft statutes for the FABC, with the following membership: Cardinal Kim (Korea), as chair; Cardinal Darmojuwono (Indonesia); Archbishop Alberto (Philippines); Bishop D'Souza (India); and Bishop Hsu (Hong Kong), as secretary. In response to some Vatican opposition to organising a pan-Asian episcopal structure and in an effort to prevent misunderstanding, they also sent a letter to Pope Paul VI. The letter was signed by the 11 episcopal conference presidents, and sent from:

        “Asian Bishops’Meeting

        As the coordinator and local host, Bishop Hsu not surprisingly was entrusted to send the cable. Until approval and establishment of the FABC, this Central Committee meeting was seen as an extension of the Asian Bishops' Meeting, and Hsu was identified as the convenor.

        After a draft of the proposed FABC Statutes was sent to episcopal conference presidents in November 1971,[21] Hsu convened another meeting of presidents of Asian episcopal conferences 24-25 August 1972, again in Hong Kong, this time at the Lee Gardens Hotel. This time, only 10 episcopal conferences were represented, since the Japan and Thai episcopal conferences did not participate due to reservations respectively regarding the proposed statutes or due to opposition to the whole proposal.[22] Despite some differences of opinions, the Follow-up Committee, with Hsu as secretary, prepared a second draft of the Statutes which was discussed and approved by 12 of the 14 Episcopal Conferences. The Asian cardinals, Kim of Seoul, Gracias of Bombay, Cooray of Colombo, and Darmojuwono of Semarang, travelled to Rome and presented that draft to Pope Paul VI, who granted approval ad experimentum for two years.[23] Those statutes, with minor subsequent revisions, and subsequent approvals, continue to guide the organisation and activity of the FABC to this day.

        As a voluntary federation of episcopal conferences, the FABC emphasises solidarity, sharing, and service. The FABC is not a supra-national episcopal conference; intentionally lacking juridical authority, the FABC coordinates and promotes initiatives, supporting local churches in responding to their respective needs. The FABC aims:“to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend whatever is for the greater good.”[24] Concerned with all of Asian society, this purpose is intentionally broad, reaching beyond limits of internal ecclesial affairs. In scope,“whatever is for the greater good”is comprehensive and integral, moving also beyond any narrow interpretation of the meaning and value of human life. The principal functions of the FABC accordingly embrace a broad understanding of its ministry:

        – promote the Church's dynamic presence in total human development;

        – study common problems and investigate coordinated solutions;

        – promote communication and cooperation among local churches;

        – serve episcopal conferences in their service of the People of God;

        – foster international organisations and movements in the Church; and

        – foster ecumenical and interreligious communication and collaboration.[25]

        These various functions reach across boundaries of community, country, church, and religion, with concern for an integral understanding of human life and development. Current membership encompasses 19 episcopal conferences and 8 associate members,[26] including Hong Kong. Over the past four decades and more, FABC membership has expanded, activities have increased, and theology has developed. Nevertheless, the FABC Central Secretariat remains in Hong Kong to this day.

        Bishop Francis Hsu passed away in 1973, even before the First FABC Plenary Assembly, which would convene in Taipei in 1974, so he would not see most of the development and growth of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. Nevertheless, he exercised a significant role in the establishment and organisation of the FABC. As the fiftieth anniversary of Hsu's 1969 installation as the first Chinese bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong approaches, it is obvious and natural to recall his brief albeit pivotal contribution to the development of the local church in Hong Kong. Yet, studying his signal accomplishments in Hong Kong, taken alone, would not adequately appreciate the breadth of his vision and the abundance of his talents in the episcopal ministry. In his service organising the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Bishop Francis Hsu also demonstrated commitment and service to the universal Church. In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Hsu comprehended that episcopal ministry was exercised collegially, with both concern for the universal Church and also dedicated care for the diocese entrusted to his pastoral care.

        “The individual bishops, who are placed in charge of particular churches, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care. . . But each of them, as a member of the episcopal college and legitimate successor of the apostles, is obliged by Christ's institution and command to be solicitous for the whole Church, and this solicitude, though it is not exercised by an act of jurisdiction, contributes greatly to the advantage of the universal Church.”[27]

Endnote :

  1. Bonnie Mendes,“Strengths and A Few Weaknesses Emerge in FABC's 25 Years”, FABC Papers 69 (1995): 14-16.
  2. Piero Gheddo, Lawrence Bianchi of Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Catholic Truth Society, 1992), p. 158.
  3. Gheddo, pp. 158-162.
  4. Selected biographies of Bishop Hsu, Chen-Ping Francis Xavier: 黃信之,〈徐誠斌主教小傳〉,《神學年刊》31期(2010),1-35頁;方豪輯註,〈徐誠斌主教小傳〉,《徐誠斌主教殘簡》(台南市:聞道,1977),111-118頁;夏其龍,《香港傳教歷史之旅:旅途上的古人》(香港:天主教香港教區福傳年跟進小組,2006),22-23頁。
  5. Fergus Cronin,“Francis, Your Servant, Our Bishop: Sermon at Requiem Mass for Bishop Hsu” 26 May 1973, Sunday Examiner (Hong Kong), 1 June 1973, Hong Kong Diocesan Archives, Memoriam/Clergy-Brother/FX-Hsu.htm (accessed 1 January 2018).
  6. Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou Hwan, “A Founding Father Reflects on FABC's Origin and Development”, FABC Papers 69 (1995): pp. 16-18.
  7. 〈徐誠斌主教返港在機場發表談話:在羅馬覲見教宗出席會議,聖父對本港教務頗感滿意〉,《公教報》1969年5月30日,Hong Kong Diocesan Archives, Exhibition/FX-HSU/1969/K19690530.pdf
    (accessed 8 December 2017).
  8. Rufino J. Cardinal Santos, “We Are All God's Coadjutors”, address of the Archbishop of Manila to the Asian Bishops' Meeting, 1970.11.23, in Visit of His Holiness Pope Paul VI to the Philippines and the Asian Bishops' Meeting, eds. Galo B. Ocampo, et al. (Manila: Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, 1971), pp. 144-145.
  9. Teopisto V. Alberto,“We Are Neighbors”, Asian Bishops' Meeting, Address by the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1970.11.23, in Visit of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, pp. 140-143.
  10. “Papal Address upon Arrival” (1970.11.27), in Visit of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, p. 31.
  11. Felix Wilfred,“Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC): Orientations, Challenges and Impact”, FABC Papers 69 (1995): p. 1.
  12. Asian Bishops’ Meeting, “Resolutions of the Meeting”, in For All the Peoples of Asia, vol. 1: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1970 to 1991, eds. Gaudencio B. Rosales, and Catalino G. Arevalo (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1992), pp. 8-10 [ALL CAPITALS in original].
  13. Asian Bishops' Meeting, “Resolution on Structures” #10, in Four Faces of Asia: A Summary Report on the Asian Bishops' Meeting, ed. Vitaliano R. Gorospe (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1971), p. 60. This set of resolutions on structures is not included in the more widely disseminated versions of the ABM Message and Resolutions in, e.g., For All the Peoples of Asia or, even, in the full-volume Visit of His Holiness Pope Paul VI.
  14. ABM, “Resolution on Structures” #9, in Four Faces of Asia, p. 59.
  15. It has been observed that the polyvalence in meaning of this motto appealed to the literary-minded Hsu. Cronin, “Francis, Your Servant, Our Bishop: Sermon at Requiem Mass for Bishop Hsu.”
  16. Vitaliano R. Gorospe, ed., “Introduction: The Asian Bishops' Meeting”, in Four Faces of Asia: A Summary Report on the Asian Bishops’ Meeting (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1971), p. 9.
  17. ABM, “Resolution on Structures” #16, in Four Faces of Asia, p. 61.
  18. Vimal Tirimanna, ed., “A Brief History of the FABC”, FABC Papers 139 (2013): pp. 5-21.
  19. Tirimanna,“A Brief History of the FABC”, pp. 9-10.
  20. “Appendix II: Letter Written to Pope Paul VI by the Bishops Assembled at the Asian Bishops’ Meeting in March 1971”, 1971.3.20, in FABC Papers 139 (2013): pp. 25-27.
  21. Kim, p. 18.
  22. Tirimanna,“A Brief History of the FABC”, pp. 10-11.
  23. Kim, p. 18.
  24. Statutes of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) (Hong Kong: FABC Central Secretariat, 2004), #1.A.
  25. Statutes of the FABC, #2.
  26. FABC member episcopal conferences currently include: Bangladesh, India – CBCI, India - Syro-Malabar, India - Syro-Malankara, India - Latin Rite, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Laos-Cambodia, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor Leste, and Vietnam. Associate members, which do not belong to particular regional episcopal conferences, include: Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Federation of Asian Bishops' Conference, (accessed 8 December 2017).
  27. Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #23.

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