Bishop Stephen Chow Sau Yan
(ZENIT News / Hong Kong, 05.18.2023).- On the final day of my Beijing trip, I led a prayer at the end of the prayers of the faithful while presiding over the morning Mass. It was something like this, “we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us so that we can learn how to love our country and our Church at the same time.” Loving one’s country and Church was picked up by a reporter. Hence, the question at the interview.
I understand that my ‘stance’ is being received with mixed emotions, which includes sadness, disappointment, or even anger. But some also come forward with support since my return to Hong Kong. No matter what, I would like to take this opportunity to shed more light on my statement.
It is true that “loving our country” is a core value espoused by the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government. Like many of us in Hong Kong, I grew up in colonial Hong Kong, where national sentiment and identity were hardly part of our awareness. Hence, expressing our love for our country was not steeped in our blood, so to speak. It should take quite some intentional efforts to make such a shift in our mindset. What many of us have experienced on the socio-political front in the past decade has further made the shift more difficult. I believe, our Chinese and Hong Kong governments must be well aware of this. We really need the Holy Spirit to teach us to love our country and our Church at the same time.
Love for our country is part of the Catholic Church’s teachings. Starting with the famous saying of Jesus, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). The implication is that both domains are necessary and not mutually exclusive for us citizens and Christians.
Then in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2239, it is written, “It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfil their roles in the life of the political community.”
What is the greatest asset of a country? Without a doubt, it is its people. Hence, loving one’s country means loving those living in the country, especially its citizens and residents. As for the Church, her greatest asset in this world should not be church buildings but the People of God. Love is better to have concrete subjects, not remaining notional. Therefore, loving our country means the dignity of its people should come first. I believe any responsible government must have the same mission in mind, though the approaches prescribed may vary due to different external factors.
Having said that, people can enjoy a ‘good’ life when their government adheres to its mission. The contrary is also true. It is, therefore, desirable to have an opening for dialogue between the government and the Church. For the sake of the country, we should help the government to become better.
Dialogue assumes respect, empathy and mutual understanding. With this form of communication in place, critical but constructive feedback can be better taken and considered. In my experience as an educator and psychologist, being positive and appreciative toward those who can make desirable changes for themselves or others is certainly more sustainable than being negatively critical and threatening most of the time.
A system or an ideology might be very problematic. Yet, humanity has its positive, brighter and loving side that can compensate for or even improve the system. My Beijing trip taught me to appreciate ecclesiastical and government personnel in the light of a common humanity desiring for ends that encourage further understanding and collaboration.
Variations among the preferred approaches will, undoubtedly, generate lacunae for dialogue. Truth is better revealed in tension than in ideology. And creativity is often an integral part of the solution when different parties are willing to work on a common ground together. Of course, we cannot be naïve about debilitating bureaucracy and political interests being some major obstacles to a fruitful dialogue, for it is not about kowtowing but a sharpening of core values in the search for a common approach.
Yes, we can be hopeful the Holy Spirit can make and has made wonderful interventions through our humanity beyond imagination. Let the Holy Spirit teach us to love our country and our Church at the same time!