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March 2023
Issue No. 313

Towards a humble and merciful ecumenism: a pastoral meeting between the Anglicans and the Roman Cath


Clergy of both Anglican and Catholic persuasions appeared together at the Holy Spirit Seminary on 18th January this year – it was a day of building friendships, as the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission organised a meeting that day for the clergy of both denominations.

The seminarians took the guests around the grounds, and talked about the history behind the Seminary. The clergy shared each other’s company in an evening prayer service, and exchanged experiences in priestly service during a fellowship session afterwards. The Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong Stephen Chow and the Anglican Archbishop of Hong Kong Andrew Chan both preached during the service, and together blessed the attending clergy – a visible sign of the ecumenical aims of the day.

A walk through the Holy Spirit Seminary

Holy Spirit Seminary, located in picturesque Aberdeen, has always been a place for training the next generation of priests. When the first national synod of the Catholic bishops in China met back in 1924, they decided to build a seminary serving Southern China in Hong Kong. The Apostolic Delegate to China, Archbishop Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini then invited Dom Adalbert Gresnigt – a Belgian Benedictine monk and a professor at Peking’s Fu Jen Catholic University – to oversee the design and architectural plans. The Seminary, with its unique combination of shiheyuan structure and Western Catholic faith, became an emblem of the ‘East meets West’ ethos that permeated Hong Kong’s culture and history. Though the Seminary’s construction was met with frequent delays due to a lack of funding and intermittent wars, the completion of the original plans was done bit by bit over the years to make up what is now known as the Holy Spirit Seminary.

Led by the seminarians, the visiting clergy were brought in front of the large mural on the West Wall. Previously, between the years 1960-2016, the murals here depicted an amalgamation of Catholic faith and Taoist thought. This was then repainted in 2016 with an image of Pentecost, reflecting not only the mission of the seminary and the goals of its students, but also the connection between the seminary and Hong Kong itself, with many of her notable landmarks depicted within the patterns of this Pentecostal mural. Another legend tells that the Grotto of Our Lady within the seminary grounds was built by hand, and the pieces of stone used were excavated during the construction of the School of Philosophy and Theology. Upon closer inspection, one can find seashells decorating the crosses dotting the Grotto. One explanation is that before the reclamations, the seminary used to be standing right next to the shoreline, and these shells were picked up by the seminarians at the beach below the hillside.

Towards a humble ecumenism

During his sermon, Archbishop Andrew Chan urged the attending clergy to rethink what it means to be ‘humble’. The Archbishop observed that we all have our own priorities, and it is natural for us to perceive things according to this. As an example, every person has his strengths and weaknesses, and it is very common that when we view ourselves, we focus on our strengths, and yet when we view others, we focus on their weaknesses. It is the same with individuals as it is with entire communities, and sometimes a whole country may likewise focus on its own strengths, paying almost no attention to its shortcomings. They result in conflict, and a state of division between all. As we relearn how to be humble, we learn to focus instead on the strengths of others. It is only when we realise our own weaknesses that the world may be filled with understanding and tolerance. Such is the way that we as believers should shape our daily witnessing, bearing it not only between people, between churches and denominations, or between ecumenical parties, but for the whole world, between heaven and earth.

The Archbishop recalled after the day that the most significant takeaway was the friendships built and understandings reached between each – the day was a positive witness to Christian unity. As the religion with the most followers around the world, Christianity is currently facing numerous challenges, and if we were to be caught in disunity, then we will all share in the adverse consequences. If we all trust in our heavenly Father, then we will naturally come together with those who share the same faith, and brothers and sisters will naturally share the bond of friendship. The Archbishop hopes that this ecumenical meeting can set an example of peace – though there still exist differences between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, these differences are insignificant when compared to the similarities that we share. The Archbishop believes that nothing will negatively affect the friendship between the two, and that the people of Hong Kong in general share the same link: though we may have different experiences, habits, and approaches to things, we are still brothers and sisters, and this ecumenical encounter is a good example of how we can come together as one.


Towards a merciful ecumenism

Bishop Stephen Chow elaborated upon the theme of ‘humility’ in his sermon, and looked at it from the angle of ‘strengths’ vs ‘humility’. ‘That we should consider we could compensate for one another’s shortcomings by our diverse strengths is already a sign of humility,’ commented the Bishop. He continued by saying that God has blessed us with many such opportunities in helping each other out, but we often refuse to take them up. The Bishop urged Hong Kongers to be proactive in serving their community, as it is often in serving that we discover our own shortcomings. After humility, the sermon explored the topic of ‘justice’, and how it is the path towards salvation, and is thus something that we should help in achieving. There may be different interpretations of justice in this world – with some even being destructive – but God’s justice is merciful. When we come to treat our issues with a merciful heart, we enable the opportunity for all parties involved to start a dialogue.

When asked, Bishop Stephen Chow stated that even though this was the first time he was involved in this kind of event, it did not phase him at all. To him, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church is a special one – there is always this talk of ‘unity in diversity’, which, to him, must begin with our respect for the diversity part, for we all come from different backgrounds due to historical reasons, and this is something that he believes will be easily bridged with more such activities involving both churches. When it comes to ‘unity’, different religions must first be a leading example in peace between themselves before they could promote peace in the wider world. When asked what is the main obstacle to peace in our age, the Bishop replied without hesitation, ‘Men’s hearts.’ He stressed that we must first be willing to leave our comfort zone, and be open to others, before we can achieve the ‘unity’ that we wish for.

Clergy sharing in fellowship

To many who attended, this meeting between the clergy of the two denominations was a treasured moment. ‘I find this kind of meeting very meaningful – and it’s not even a bit stuffy!’ The Revd Tsui Yuk Fan recalled how there were many common topics during the discussions – the leaving parishioners, challenges in a post-pandemic world, etc. – and these are things that the two churches could face together. The Revd Tim Cheung thought that this meeting was a blessing from God. Since a seminary is the metaphorical heart of a diocese, to be able to come to this site to listen to the different voices of the two churches is truly an inspirational moment. ‘Though the path towards ecumenism is a long one, this meeting really did teach me a lot.’


The Revd Jonathan Chee and the Vicar General Joseph Chan were both organisers of this meeting. It turns out that both were classmates in CPE, and have been old friends. This meeting was, in a way, a meeting between old friends. The Revd Jonathan Chee also shared his past with the Revd Christopher Chor: years ago, during the Installation Mass of the Catholic Bishop Michael Yeung, he bumped into his previous boss the Revd Christopher Chor. The two worked at the same place before becoming clergy – with one later being called to serve in the Anglican Church, and the other, the Roman Catholic. As such, this meeting between the two churches’ clergy holds a special significance for the Revd Chee. To him, it is a moment of true goodness, found in unity within God.

The ecumenical fellowship between the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Church continues. Later, in the Clergy Retreat cum Opening Ceremony for the Silver Jubilee of the Inauguration of the Province, to be held at 10AM, 15th April, Diocesan Boys School, Bishop Stephen Chow will visit again.

<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 313. Please click here>


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