HONG KONG (UCAN) -- The two bishops of Hong Kong have asked their parish priests to put aside their misgivings and welcome new Church movements including the Neocatechumenal Way in response to a papal request during the prelates' first ad limina visit to the Vatican.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 76, and Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon, 69, made their request at a special meeting on Nov. 7 of about 120 diocesan and Religious priests serving in Hong Kong parishes.
The prelates highlighted Pope Benedict XVI's concerns expressed in late June during their ad limina visit. Bishops usually make these visits every five years to report on their diocese to the pope and Vatican officials, but Hong Kong diocese's last such visit was in 1996.
Cardinal Zen opened the meeting lightheartedly, saying: "I'll disappoint you, as this meeting will not discuss my retirement and appointment of auxiliary bishops."
Then he briefed the priests on issues the pope addressed including priests' formation, Catholic education and the Hong Kong Church's concern for the Church in China.
The key issue the two bishops wanted to raise "face-to-face" with their priests, however, was "ecclesial movements and new communities," in particular the "unresolved" problem with the Neocatechumenal Way. This past June 13 the Holy See gave canonical approval to that lay movement's statutes.
The two bishops asked their priests to "seriously accept the pope's instruction" in receiving the movement into their parishes.
Cardinal Zen admitted that "conflicts unfortunately have happened," such as issues surrounding the movement's plan to set up its own seminary here. However, he said the pope hopes local Churches will collaborate with new movements, which are "most important new realities fostered by the Spirit in the Church in order to put into practice the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)."
Other new movements in the diocese the cardinal cited include Focolare, the Community of Sant'Egidio and The Beatitudes, which work here harmoniously.
Cardinal Zen, who recently visited an assembly and seminary of the Neocatechumenal Way in Italy, affirmed its achievements in evangelization and vocations, and its concern for the poor. There are concrete figures of conversions, he noted.
As bishop of Hong Kong, he said, he is responsible for leading the new movements and wants parish priests to support the Neocatechumenal Way in setting up parish-based communities. "We hope to have a new start."
At the meeting's open discussion, some priests shared experiences concerning the movement.
Father Pietro Galbiati, assistant pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said he accepted the movement into a parish he headed in the late 1970s. It started with 16 parishioners, who were "encouraged to read the Bible and pray fervently," said the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions priest, presbyter for the Neocatechumenal Way in Hong Kong.
The Italian missioner added that he also established small communities in other parishes he served, but those groups did not last because they lacked support from parish priests that came afterward.
Father Henry Ng Kwok-po, pastor of Mother of Good Counsel Parish, told UCA News he appreciated the Bible-study enthusiasm of Neocatechumenal seminarians, whom he taught in the diocese's seminary college. "I'm open, as they may encourage our parishioners to read the Bible. But we priests should manage the community better and fit them into our parish culture," he said.
On the other hand, a senior priest said his experience was that the movement undermined the pastor, took over the parish, and ran activities without the parish priest's approval. "I would not let them come to my parish again," he said.
Cardinal Zen concluded the meeting by asking the priests to set aside any misgivings they might have. He also promised to invite Neocatechumenal leaders to brief priests on the movement's nature and activities.
The Neocatechumenal Way began in 1964 in Spain as a movement to encourage spiritual renewal by rediscovering the Sacrament of Baptism and promoting ongoing education in the faith. The movement estimates it has 20,000 communities in 900 dioceses worldwide, with about a million Catholics as members.
The two Neocatechumenal communities in Hong Kong have a total of about 70 members. Each community meets weekly for Bible study. They come together every Saturday evening for Mass at a local Catholic school.