Saturday, September 24, 2016

Permanent deacons: a novelty for the Chinese Church

For the first time in its history the Church in China is discussing the possibility of having permanent deacons, that is lay (also married) men who receive diaconal ordination to help bishops and priests in the Church's mission. 

The reality of permanent deacons has been present for decades in various churches worldwide that are experiencing a scarcity of clergy and pastoral workers. 

In China, however, it is the first time that the subject has been addressed. This because the local Church is beginning to see a decrease in priestly vocations, the result of the one child policy - with its lack of children in families – and a lifestyle far from Christian values.
 
From September 6 to 9, the Council of Chinese Bishops held a study meeting at the national seminary in Beijing to discuss the experience of permanent deacons. The gathering was attended by 50 people, with representatives from 14 Chinese provinces including Hebei, Sichuan, Shandong, Beijing. 

The bishops invited some Church figures from Hong Kong to participate: Msgr. Dominic Chan Chi-ming, vicar general of the diocese and president of the Committee for the permanent diaconate in Hong Kong (see 2 photos); deacons Edwin Ng and Louis Wong.
Commenting to AsiaNews on the meeting, Msgr. Chan Chi-ming said that among the Chinese participants, some think the time has come to promote the diaconate in China, but others think it is better to wait 8 or 10 years. Understanding that the heart of the apostolic ministry is the bishop is fundamental to nourishing this form of service, continued the vicar general, while priests help him in the sacramental service and education of the faithful and permanent deacons are called to live in close contact with society. "This meeting in Beijing - he added - is a seed sown which may grow. The diocese of Hong Kong is offering its to support their efforts".

Mr. Edwin Ng (see photo 1 on the left, with his wife), one of the deacons who participated, confessed that it was the first time for him to have met bishops and priests in China. "Their conception of the permanent diaconate - he told AsiaNews - is perhaps rooted in a pre-Vatican II concept. If you want to promote this service, they have to find some good methods of education".

Mr. Ng became a permanent deacon 10 years ago and his main commitment lies in visiting prisoners and correctional institutions for minors.

Hong Kong has benefited from the experience of permanent deacons since 1993. In the beginning, even in the former British colony, there were some obstacles: 80% of the priests were opposed, but Card. John Wu Cheng-Chung, the bishop at the time, decided to proceed anyway. Hong Kong was the first country in Asia to have permanent deacons. India second where the permanent diaconate has been a reality since 2006.

At present, there are 26 permanent deacons throughout the territory. In general, the candidates need to 6 to 8 years of formation to reach the diaconate and the selection process is very strict. Married candidates to the diaconate must first obtain the written agreement of their wife, then they are submitted to several interviews with formation directors and later began a course of study at the seminary and pastoral experience in parishes, guided by a spiritual director.

The most senior Hong Kong deacon is Joseph Young who is 83 years of age. He was ordained in 2002. Today he serves in a parish. In addition to pastoral duties, he continues to visit the prisoners at least once a week as well as offer his company to the elderly in nursing homes.

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