Bishop calls for strengthening lay leadership in the diocese

Father Choy, left, with Bishop Chow, right. Photo: Sunday Examiner

HONG KONG (SE): Responding to the call of Pope Francis to establish the Ministry of Catechists in the dioceses, Bishop Stephen Chow, sj. has appointed the ad-hoc working group to conduct necessary consultations and research for the process on 1 April. Pope Francis instituted the “Ministry of Catechist” in the Church through the apostolic letter, Antiquum ministerium, (Ancient Ministry) On 11 May 2021. He then had asked all bishops worldwide to establish the ministry in their dioceses.

During a conversation with the Sunday Examiner, Bishop Chow expressed his hopes that the new Ministry would usher in better qualified lay leadership, including the leadership of women, into the life of the Church.

When asked if he hoped the ordination of women would be a reality, Bishop Chow said, ‘Pope Francis had appointed two commissions to study the possibility of women deacons. This means the Church is open to the possibility of ordained women; otherwise, there was no need for the pope to appoint a second commission after the first commission of 2016 was inconclusive on the issue. We pray with the pope and pray with the Church and listen to the Holy Spirit.

The pope had appointed the second commission on 8 April 2020. It has 10 members, headed by Giuseppe Cardinal Petrocchi, and five of them are women.

Bishop Chow further explained that, “The term ‘ordained’, in a wider sense, means not only Holy Orders but also the ministry—ordained to a ministry. For example, with the apostolic letter, Spiritus Domini, issued on 10 January 2021, Pope Francis modified the Canon Law, allowing women to have access to the ministries of lector and acolyte.

The term ‘ordained’, in a wider sense, means not only Holy Orders but also the ministry—ordained to a ministry. For example, with the apostolic letter, Spiritus Domini, issued on 10 January 2021, Pope Francis modified the Canon Law, allowing women to have access to the ministries of lector and acolyte

Bishop Chow

“My understanding of service and ministry is that it should not be confined to Holy Orders. Otherwise, it becomes clericalism, which we are fighting against,” the bishop said.

“I believe that our Church should be a discerning Church, and who can predict the future of the Church 100 or 200 years later?” he added.

“As a diocese, we must reflect on ways to give more opportunities for women to come to the leadership,” said Bishop Chow. He added that the ad-hoc working group for the ministry of catechist must be a platform for strengthening lay leadership in our diocese.

The 22-member ad-hoc working group, headed by vicar general, Father Peter Choy Wai-man, is appointed for a two-year term.

The Working Group is set up “to offer advice to the Diocese, in the form of a proposal covering the strategic direction and working roadmap, to prepare for the institution of the ministry of catechists in the diocese,” stated an earlier diocesan communiqué.

Father Choy, joining the conversation with Bishop Chow, explained that, “Our Church has excellent participation of the laity in its activities. Among them, there are volunteers who serve as catechists. Often their services are limited to teaching catechism for a certain group for a certain period, and they may or may not continue with their services. Their focus on teaching catechism is minimal.”

He said, “The Ministry of Catechists, from the ecclesial point of view, is more connected with and authorised by the Church to take care of the faith formation. They come not only based on the tasks assigned; instead, they will be required to take care of the whole catechetical ministry in a parish.”

Father Choy envisions that these catechists will be authorised and commissioned by the diocese’s bishop for a life-long commitment, as in the case of the permanent diaconate in the Church.

He further clarified, “The fundamental difference between the diaconate ministry and the ministry of the catechists is that the former is an ordained ministry while the latter is a life-long commitment to service until a commissioned catechist opts to leave the ministry.”

As in the cases of deacons, the ministry of catechists is more than a personal choice, a vocation. Therefore, there will be a process of selection, focusing on their theological background, understanding of the teachings of the Church, and aptitude for training catechumens of different age groups and backgrounds.

The fundamental difference between the diaconate ministry and the ministry of the catechists is that the former is an ordained ministry while the latter is a life-long commitment to service until a commissioned catechist opts to leave the ministry

Father Choy

“Similar to the ministry of the permanent diaconate, the diocese plans to set up a community of catechists in the ministry with ongoing formation and regular gatherings so that they can support one another,” Father Choy added.

He explained the plans of the diocese to assign at least two catechists to each of the parishes of the diocese, while the maximum number would depend on the requirements of the parishes. As in the cases of the clergy, commissioned catechists will also be assigned to parishes for a period and can be transferred.

Together with the priests and deacons, they would also be ex officio members of the parish councils. The diocese would offer them an honorarium for the services rendered.

This arrangement could solve the problem of some small parishes not having qualified catechists. It would also help the parish communities to sustain a substantial catechetical formation programme, uninterrupted by the transfers of the parish priests.

Father Choy hopes to initiate the proposed ministry in the diocese within two years after the ad-hoc working group conducts a wide range of consultations with parish priests, volunteer catechists of parishes, and other stakeholders.

It is necessary to create an atmosphere to make people aware of this new ministry and why it is essential in the Church. “I am quite confident that the parishes will appreciate the new ministry, and parish priests and volunteer catechists in parishes will support this idea,” he added.

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