China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2010/Oct

The Holy Spirit Study Centre marks 30 years

It was 1980 and China, the sleeping giant, was fast awakening. Isolated and silent for a generation, the country was undergoing unprecedented changes in all areas of life, including religion. Churches had reopened in several major cities and increasing numbers of visitors were arriving in China. Overseas Chinese and those from Hong Kong were especially interested in travelling to the motherland again.

Exactly 31 years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on 1 October 1980, the Holy Spirit Study Centre opened its doors. The centre was the inspiration of Bishop (later Cardinal) John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung, of loving memory. It was he who gave the centre its role and function, its location and name.

In 1980, aware of the rapid changes taking place in the Mainland, Bishop Wu was eager to establish links with our brothers and sisters in the Church in China.

In order to respond to their needs, the bishop, motivated by pastoral concerns and as head of the diocese with the largest number of Chinese Catholics in the world, was convinced that Hong Kong was a perfect place for access to and communication with the mainland, and could play a key role in the future development of the Church in China.

He was eager for local Catholics to open their hearts in support of their brothers and sisters north of Hong Kong. The China research and liaison centre was established and Father (now Bishop) John Tong Hon appointed director, assisted by Father Angelo Lazzarotto PIME, Father Elmer Wurth MM, and Father Peter Barry MM.

Over the past 30 years, many others have helped to expand the primary task of the research centre in gathering, storing and analysing pertinent data about China that serves to broaden our understanding of the situation of Catholics and the Church in the mainland, and to develop appropriate Christian responses.

So much to learn!

From its inception, the Holy Spirit Study Centre has been located on the same grounds as the Holy Spirit Seminary. It now has a full-time staff of 15 administrative assistants and research associates, a library, archives for collected documentation and meeting rooms.

Material is gleaned from over 100 Chinese and English language periodicals and daily newspapers. This provides both professional researchers and other interested people with a wealth of up-to-date information on what is happening in mainland China and in the Church in China.

Right from the start, the staff at the centre realised that meeting with other people interested in the Church in China would be beneficial, so contacts have always been maintained with other centres and religious people working for the Church in China.

As early as January 1981, it was understood that the centre would have to become involved in publishing. Its first publication was called Tripod or Ding, a bilingual magazine primarily concerned with Christianity in China. It comes out and published four times a year.

Edition No. 158 of Tripod just came off the press with the theme: The 400th Anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, (1552-1610). It has many interesting articles and much information. For those who would like to read it, you may go to:, or purchase a copy at the Catholic Centre.

The Holy Spirit Study Centre produces a variety of publications – all dealing with some aspect of religion in China. Bishop John Tong’s book, Challenges and Hopes, has been translated and published into a number of languages. Anthony Lam Sui-ki’s two books: The Catholic Church in China, Through Darkness and Light, and Decades of Vacillation, Chinese Communist Religious Policy and Its Implementation, have been published in Chinese and English.

In 1991, the centre initiated a monthly one-page feature entitled China Bridge for the English-language diocesan newspaper, the Sunday Examiner. It is regularly picked up by international Church news agencies and often translated into a number of languages. Over the years, many books, articles and documentaries, have been published by the centre.

No substitute for personal contacts

The Holy Spirit Study Centre takes an active part in forging close relationships with Christians on the mainland. Staff visit churches, where they share information and experiences with Catholic communities. The raison d’étre for such work is the promotion of a spirit of friendship, reconciliation and unity on both sides of the border.

The centre also provides some assistance to seminaries and convents in China by securing library equipment, books, teaching materials and other items. Such assistance is supportive and advisory, and is one way the centre can make a contribution to the formation of China’s future priests and religious.

The centre maintains close contact with Church people in China in both the official and unofficial communities. Staff visit the mainland periodically in many different capacities, both formally and informally.

Some present papers at conferences, while others visit churches, convents and social centres to meet a variety of people. Some manage to teach for short periods in seminaries or give talks to sisters in convents.

Just meeting with the Catholic people in the mainland is a great encouragement for them. One of the key services of the centre is providing a communications link between the Church in China and the Church outside. This is particularly useful for funding agencies and other related institutions.

Some service to the people

The plight of China’s orphans, abandoned children, elderly and those afflicted with Hansen’s Disease did not escape the notice of the centre. As the Church in China began to develop its social services, individual members of the centre often visited these works and offered help.

Orphanages in China are often not orphanages in the usual sense. Almost all the babies have parents somewhere who have abandoned them. The children in these institutions are either girls or little boys with some type of disability.

There are orphanages in many parts of China run by local sisters. Children receive loving care – some remaining from birth until adulthood. Some of these adults are unable to work. Now, many sisters are taking care of adults and, for those who can learn a skill of some kind, they do everything they can to help them become a part of society.

For millennia, the elderly have been held in high esteem in China. They were supported, respected, cared for and surrounded by their loved ones, including many grandchildren. Grandparents spent a great deal of time with and caring for their grandchildren.

Today, most young married couples have only one child. They often leave home to establish nuclear families. Most of their income is spent on personal and immediate family needs. There is little left to provide for aging parents.

Many elderly live alone, seldom seeing their grandchildren, and have no one to care for them. For many, life has lost its meaning.

The Church in China is responding to this need by opening homes for the elderly run by sisters. Often these homes are supported by funds from foreign agencies, while the Holy Spirit Study Centre helps with the application process.

Another ministry of interest to the Church, and especially to sisters in China, is working with people who have Hansen’s Disease and often live in designated villages. They still suffer from isolation, discrimination and poverty.

The government is trying hard to ease their plight. Many missionary societies, Catholic and Protestant, have a long history of caring for those with the illness and systematically contribute to their welfare.

Even today, many groups outside of China are interested, not only in the welfare of those with Hansen’s Disease, but also in providing schools for the their children, who are ostracised from their villages and from going to school with other children. The Church in China, especially through the sisters and the Church’s newly-opened social service centres, is eager to address this dire need with dedication and compassion.

Looking forward in hope

Now, in 2010, the Holy Spirit Study Centre is celebrating its 30th anniversary with some of the original staff like Bishop Tong and Father Barry, who still faithfully carrying on its work.

Over the years, others have worked at the centre in different capacities. Maryknoll Sister Betty Ann Maheu made a great contribution over 18 years as the English editor of Tripod. Many of the current staff have been working at the centre for a number of years.

All of us are still carrying on the aim of the centre, which is to research both the past and present situations of China and the Church in China. Those who visit find not only a pleasant atmosphere, but also an abundance of materials in its specialised library with its extensive documentation, reference books on Chinese history, mission history, books on religion, as well as its diverse periodical collection.

Hong Kong has seen a few other study centres, both Catholic and Protestant, open their doors, publish newsletters or even glossy magazines about Christians in China, and then close after several years. They made a variety of contributions before limited personnel and low funding caught up with them and they had to close down.

The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong has supported us for three decades. It seems that God still has plans for us. May God continue to bless the important work of the Holy Spirit Study Centre as we remember the words of Cardinal Wu, our founder, when he wrote on the occasion of our opening, “Build a bridge with our brothers and sisters inside and outside China, promoting the mission of reconciliation through the gospel.”