China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2005/Oct

The Holy Spirit Study Centre 1980 – 2005


It was 1980 and China, the sleeping giant, was fast awakening. Isolated and silent for over 30 years, the country was undergoing unprecedented changes in all areas of life, including religion. Churches had reopened in six of China’s major cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Taiyuan, Wuhan, Tianjin and Guangzhou. Bishop Dominic Tang had been released from prison after 22 years. The United Sates had established diplomatic relations and people, especially overseas Chinese and those from Hong Kong, were beginning to think about traveling to the mainland once again.

Bishop (later Cardinal) John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung was especially concerned about the situation of the Catholic Church in China. He was eager for the Catholics of Hong Kong to open their hearts in support of their brothers and sisters. Motivated by pastoral concerns and as head of the diocese with the largest number of Chinese Catholics in the world, Bishop Wu was convinced that Hong Kong, strategically located for geographic access to and communication with the mainland, had a key role to play in the future of China’s Catholic Church. Hong Kong was, therefore, according to the bishop, the best place in the world in which to locate a China research study centre. With these goals in mind and within this ambience, Bishop Wu founded the Holy Spirit Study Centre and appointed Father John Tong Hon as the centre’s director.

Initial venture

In January 1981, less than three months after it opened, the centre launched Tripod or Ding, a bilingual magazine primarily concerned with Christianity in China. Tripod has remained its main publication throughout these 25 years.

Building bridges of friendship

On 28 February 1984, Pope John Paul II, introduced the concept of the “bridge-Church.” He said, “It is to you Catholics of Taiwan and the diaspora, that is entrusted this wonderful task of being a bridge-Church for your mainland compatriots.” The Church in Hong Kong, Macau and throughout the world soon appropriated that task. The Church in Hong Kong saw bridge-building with the Church in China as its mission, entrusted to it by the Holy Father himself. It was in this spirit of friendship that, in 1984, Fathers John Tong, Father Peter Barry and other staff members, eager to become more and more knowledgeable of the situation of the Church in China, set out to visit the newly-opened seminaries and churches in China’s major cities. These seminaries were poor and poorly equipped and their libraries were non-existent. With the help of friends, the centre obtained thousands of books for the Beijing National Seminary, Sheshan Seminary, and the Central Southern Regional Seminary in Wuhan.

An historic moment

In 1985, Bishop Wu’s efforts to build bridges of friendship with China were soon rewarded. He received an invitation from China’s Religious Affairs Bureau to visit Beijing and Shanghai. This was the first time ever that a Catholic bishop had been invited to China by the Religious Affairs Bureau. Bishop Wu was also the first Catholic bishop of the Hong Kong diocese to receive an invitation to visit China and it marked his first trip back to China in over 30 years.

The centre welcomes individuals and delegations

As more and more individuals and groups became interested in travelling to China, the centre became a rallying point. It welcomed many special guests and delegations. Staff members also began to accompany groups to China. People travelling to the mainland for the first time were most eager to have someone who would know where to go and what was proper and acceptable in different places and circumstances.

Among the centre’s first guests was Bishop Dominic Tang, who had come to Hong Kong for medical treatment and Bishop K.H. Ting, the Anglican bishop of Nanjing, who led a Chinese Christian delegation to Hong Kong. Both Bishops Ting and Bishop Tang shared a common mission: to serve as a “bridge” between the Church in China and the Churches in the rest of the world.

The Centre has played host to many important visitors.

Responding to needs

Always eager to respond to the needs of the Church in China, the centre’s members have constantly sought avenues to meet these needs. In the early 80s, the centre became aware that the leaders of the Catholic Church in China and the people had no access to information about the universal Church and therefore, no means of knowing what was going on in the Church outside. To fill this gap, the centre began publishing Vox Mundi, a monthly compilation of religious news from outside of China. From 1988 to 1995, to realise Cardinal Wu’s desire to keep the Catholics in Hong Kong informed about the fast developing Church situation in China, Teresa Yeung, one of the centre’s staff, travelled extensively throughout China meeting with bishops, priests, sisters and laity. Accounts of her meetings and travels became the contents of God Loves China, a supplement to Kung Kao Po, Hong Kong’s Chinese-language diocesan weekly. In March 1991, the centre initiated a monthly feature entitled “China Bridge” for the English-language Sunday Examiner.

From the very beginning, the Holy Spirit Study Centre has carefully studied the situation of the Church in China to assess its needs. It soon became obvious that one of the most pressing needs was the formation of seminarians, priests and sisters. Formation became, and has remained, the top priority of the centre. To this end, the centre has sent thousands of books for the seminary libraries, it has purchased teaching aids and equipment, and facilitated the presence of professors from outside to teach in seminaries as permitted by the government. Sisters have been offered retreats, catechetical training as well as workshops on religious life.

The credibility of the centre has also been enhanced also by the excellent research done by its researchers and by their participation at China symposia throughout the world and through invitations to lecture in China’s major universities.

Throughout these 25 years, as the situation in China has changed and new opportunities presented themselves, the Holy Spirit Study Centre has tried to adapt its responses accordingly. In addition, it has tried to be faithful to its original mandate: to maintain an open and objective position reflecting the views of both the official and unofficial Church in China. It has also tried to maintain a balance between “pastoral” and “academic” in its various services. As a result, the Hong Kong diocese, Vatican authorities and the Church in China view the centre as a well-informed credible persona, whose sole interest is the good of China and the Church in China. The many blessings of these 25 years call for a prayer of gratitude. As Bishop John Tong, who has ably directed the work of the centre for the last 25 years, has written:

“Today, on our silver jubilee, we again wish to thank God for the wonders he has done for us throughout the years, realising that without God’s help and the generosity of so many friends around the world, we could have accomplished nothing.”