40 years of the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a bridge to the Church in China

Founded in 1980 by the then bishop of Hong Kong, Msgr. Giovanni Battista Wu Cheng-Chung, the Centre has nurtured relations with China, collected information, carried out studies, given subsidies and fostered friendship with the Church and Chinese society. The future prospects of a more academic focus.

by Sergio Ticozzi

12/03/2020, 12.52

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, founded on October 1, 1980. The initiative was motivated by the concerns of the far-sighted bishop of the time, John Baptist Wu Cheng-Chung (cardinal from 1988, 1925-2002) for the Church in China, given that at the time is was embarking on a policy of liberalization and opening to the world.

Bishop Wu has entrusted its direction to Rev. John Tong Hon (current Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, bishop of Hong Kong from 2009 to 2017, cardinal since 2012) with the cooperation of members of the Maryknoll Missionary Society, Frs. Peter Barry and Elmer Wurth, and of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, Fr. Angelo S. Lazzarotto.

The Maryknoll Society played a very significant role in the history and development of the Centre, both in assigning additional staff and in financial support. Other religious congregations in Hong Kong, both male and female, also later provided operational staff.

The initial aims were manifold: to follow the events of the Church in China; provide financial assistance for its rebirth and resumption of activity, collect information on its state in order to pass it on to those interested in China for various reasons (religious, cultural and economic). By implementing these activities, the Centre was intended to act as a bridge between the Catholic Church in China with other Chinese communities and above all with the universal Church, promoting a mission of reconciliation.

These aims were pursued through the following activities: distribution of liturgical texts, publications and religious articles in China; encouragement of exchange visits with Chinese clergy; funding for construction projects (churches and convents) and religious formation in various Chinese dioceses and congregations (by finding aid agencies to ensure subsidies); the publishing of the Tripodmagazine (in Chinese and English), the inserts God loves Chinaand Bridge with China in Hong Kong’s Catholic weeklies and other publications; organizing the Ricci Meeting on a monthly basis, an opportunity for people involved in the apostolate in and to China to meet and share;  lectures and seminars offered to various institutions, updating and guiding groups of foreigners in their visits or pilgrimages to China, etc.

With the passage of time and the change in social conditions in China and Hong Kong, the activities of the Centre have also adapted, while continuing the previous ones. Aid projects, for example, have focused above all in the area of ​​evangelization and human and religious formation of Catholics, both clergy and lay faithful, with particular attention to the younger generations. Thanks to greater ease of travel, the Centre began organizing short-term courses in Hong Kong with the help of other institutions (one or two weeks, given the restrictions on permits) on specific topics for qualified groups of Chinese Catholics.

The analysis of the recent situation has presented new elements: information on China and the Church is provided by multiple journalistic and electronic sources, as well as by direct contacts of many visitors; among the Chinese clergy and nuns, thanks to study abroad, experts in various sectors have increased, from theology to the Bible and spirituality, who can organize initiatives and training courses on the ground; the Holy See has undertaken direct contacts with the Chinese authorities in view of resolving the problem of reconciliation between the official and underground communities of the Church, resulting in the politicization of the case in point, etc.

As a consequence of these new elements, the Centre has decided to move towards a more academic service, while continuing with its traditional activities for as long as they are required. It therefore intends to give greater consideration to the research and study of problems and challenges that the Church in China is currently facing, rather than providing information and brief news reports. To this end, it is developing closer cooperation with Holy Spirit Seminary College, on the way to becoming its own research institute, specific to the Church in China. In this context,Tripodhas been reduced to two issues a year but with a more academic content. It is hoped that this new focus of interests will facilitate contacts and cooperation with the intellectual world of China, in view of a deeper radicalization of the Christian faith in Chinese culture. It would also result in a greater consonance with the orientation of the Sinicization of Religion that the Chinese authorities are pursuing and would allow the Centre to continue its role as a bridge between the Catholic Church in China and the universal Church.

The Centre cannot fail to express its sincere and heartfelt gratitude to all the people, institutions, religious congregations and charitable agencies who have contributed and allowed its development in these past 40 years.

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