Rome (AsiaNews) – This coming 10 April will be the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Hong Kong. The first missionaries from the ‘Seminario Lombardo per le Missioni Estere” (Lombard Seminary for Foreign Missions) set foot on this strip of land in 1858.
In the beginning they worked to serve the few local Catholics or those from neighbouring Macao and for the Irish soldiers enlisted in the British forces stationed in the colony.
But they quickly began evangelising among the Chinese villages of Kowloon, on the mainland, and in Sai Kung, thus inaugurating a page of history that eventually matured and gave birth to the diocese of Hong Kong, who now can claim distinction for its commitment to announcing the Word, to charity work, to education, and to the struggle for justice and democracy.
The PIME community and the Hong Kong Church will celebrate this recurrence by organising two events on 10 and 11 April.
The first, on 10 April at PIME House in Hong Kong, includes the unveiling of ‘memorial stone’ to mark the 150-year presence of hundreds of missionaries in the territory.
The following day Card Joseph Zen, bishop of Hong Kong, will celebrate Mass in the cathedral.
At 8 pm Caritas Hall will host a conference. Fr Gianni Gianpietro and Sr Beatrice Leung will talk about ‘Evangelising and founding of the local Church; Fr. Dino Doimo and Fr John B. Kwan will discuss ‘Evangelising through pastoral ministry’; Fr. Renzo Milanese and Dr Anthony Lam (from the Holy Spirit Study Centre) will address the issue of ‘Evangelising through education and social action’. Cardinal Zen will bring the meeting to a close with some concluding remarks.
On the occasion of the 150 years of presence of PIME in Hong Kong, Fr Gianbattista Zanchi, PIME Superior General, has sent a letter to the territory’s missionaries which we publish here.
TO P.I.M.E. MISSIONARIES
HONGKONG – CINA Region
Since I could not be physically present I am participating in your celebration of the 150th anniversary of PIME’s presence and work in Hong Kong through this message and this for three reasons. First, I want to offer you my most cordial congratulations and share with you the joy of this celebration. Second, I want to join you in thanking the Lord and all those people who have helped and help you in your missionary tasks. Lastly I want this letter to spur and encourage you for the future of your community.
From the beginning of its history Hong Kong has always offered great challenges and presented great difficulties to the work of evangelisation because of its status as a ‘British colony’ founded primarily for economic and political reasons with a predominantly Chinese population but with the presence of groups of various nationalities.
Once the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith assigned our brothers to this mission in 1858, they not only started offering their religious ministries to foreign groups but also especially took care to spread the Gospel among Chinese villages on Hong Kong Island as well on mainland areas that were part of the Mission.
Life was hard and the means at their disposal very limited; they were always on the move: visiting and helping the faithful who had already been baptised but also trying to establish new contacts and raise awareness about the Christian faith among non Christians.
Life for the brothers who toiled in Hong Kong city or on the mainland required undoubtedly a great spirit of self-sacrifice and constant involvement.
It was this spirit of theirs, shared by Chinese priests and nuns as well by members of other congregations and missionary institutes, that led to the gradual but worthy creation and development of the Hong Kong Mission so that by 1968 it could be handed over to the local clergy on solid foundations and with good institutions.
The history of our presence in Hong Kong shows us that among our brothers, and this despite their human frailties, there were some exceptional people. And I don’t mean only the bishops who led the Hong Kong Church during times that were often hard, but also the ordinary missionaries, the true saints, who spent all their energy and their life to evangelise. Their names are written in heaven but you have chosen to tangibly remember all of them in a special commemorative book.
On this, the 150th anniversary, we must first and foremost enjoy their spirit of total dedication to evangelisation and their strong missionary passion, and thank the Lord for it, but we must also view it as a model and a spur to continue in our work, today as well as tomorrow.
With as example your predecessors, who always welcomed and faced the challenges thrown at them by different situations and different times, today your community must know how to meet in the same spirit and with the same faith the challenges of modern Hong Kong society.
Since July 1997 Hong Kong is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China, and acts as a bridge for other communities in the Chinese Diaspora. It is also highly urban and cosmopolitan place, basking in an atmosphere that is modern, secularised and sophisticated.
The challenges to evangelisation that such a reality poses require courage and creativity. Together with the local Church it is also up to Hong Kong’ PIME community to find ways and means to tackle them in positive and appropriate terms.
The missionary charisma of the early evangelisation which the Lord gave to our institute must stimulate us in this search and lead us continue our commitment to pass it on in the communities in which we are called to work.
The celebration of the 150th anniversary of PIME’s presence in Hong Kong must therefore not only be a motive for rejoicing and thanksgiving but should also be an important moment in which to reflect and analyse the current tasks that your local community is called to perform, so that it can pursue them in a renewed spirit and adopt more appropriate methods to meet the challenges that Hong Kong society now has in store for you.
This is my hope and prayer as well as that of all PIME missionaries.
Cordially in the Lord
Father Gian Battista Zanchi
Rome, 31 March 2008
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord