Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bishop Tong becomes the 7th Chinese Cardinal in history

As they celebrate the New Year and enter the Year of the Dragon, Chinese Catholics have additional reasons for rejoicing: Pope Benedict XVI will make Hong Kong’s Bishop John Tong Hon a cardinal on February 18 and, for the first time in history, there will be three Chinese in the College of Cardinals.
Cardinal-elect Bishop John Tong Hon
Bishop Tong is the seventh Chinese cardinal in the history of the Church, and the first to be born in Hong Kong. A quiet, scholarly, reserved, spiritual man, he spent ten of the first twelve years of his life in mainland China.

He holds a Master's degree in Chinese philosophy. Since 1980 he has been Director of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, the leading Catholic research centre on the Church in China, and is one of the most informed people on this subject. He is also a member of the China Commission established by Pope Benedict.Bishop John Tong Hon [in the middle] with Frs. Josep Abella, Superior General [left], Mario [second from right] and Marcel-li Fonts, Delegate Superior [right] in 2010

He firmly believes that “only dialogue and negotiation can resolve conflicts”. At the same time he insists that Beijing has to “allow complete religious freedom and human rights to all our brothers and sisters in the Church”, if it wants normal relations with the Catholic Church. As cardinal, he can play a significant role by helping bridge the gap between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities.

Bishop Tong considers himself “unworthy and privileged” to be named cardinal, he told Hong Kong’s Sunday Examiner, January 9. He regards this honor as “a sign of the Pope’s great love and concern for the Catholic Church in China, and an encouragement for the efforts of the Hong Kong diocese in its efforts to promote reconciliation and full communion between the China Church and the Universal Church.”
Claretians of China region seen with Bishop John Tong Hon
at the Maryknolls House in Hong Kong
Bishop Tong was born to non-Catholic parents on 31 July 1939 as the first of three children (two boys and one girl). When he was two years old the Japanese invaded Hong Kong and his family had to move to Macau (his mother’s birthplace). Soon after, however, to ensure his safety, his parents sent him to stay with his paternal grandmother in a village in Guangdong province, mainland China (where his father was born). He remained there until the age of six. After the war ended on 15 August 1945, he was reunited with his family in Canton, and started primary school. But then his father, an accountant, fell ill with tuberculosis, and his mother had to work as a teacher to support the family.

After the war, his mother, who had studied in a Catholic school, decided to become a Catholic and was baptized. In the following years the whole family followed suit.

In those years, the Communists and the Nationalists engaged in fierce fighting in northern and central China, and many wounded, destitute soldiers sought refuge in Canton where the Tong family lived. The young John witnessed the compassion and love shown by the Catholic missionaries (American Maryknollers) in Canton to these people, and was greatly impressed. His parish priest, who introduced him to Catholic primary school, was among them and his example inspired him to become a priest.

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