In a children's I.Q. quiz book in Hong Kong, I once read a joke: "What's the difference between Christians and Catholics?" When you turn the page, here's the answer: "I don't know. You have to ask God." I laughed loudly. To get the joke, you need to know that Chinese name for Protestants is translated as "Christian" while those in communion with Rome are called Catholics. This creates an unfortunate situation in which Protestants and Catholics in Hong Kong are thought to belong to two different religions. “Are you Christian or Catholic?” is still a common question when trying to find out one’s religious affiliation.
The reasons for the divide are complex but go back to early missionary history and the different translations for the name of God. The Catholic Church chose “Tianzhu” literally meaning ‘Lord of heaven’, which was considered more in line with Confucian thinking. The Protestant missionaries who came later preferred to use the older “Shangdi” which literally means ‘The Emperor from Above’. This divide in names for God and the Christian faith explains how the five officially recognized religions in China are named as Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestant Christianity and Catholicism.
One of the major church bodies that seeks to overcome these historic divisions in the church is the Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC). The Council runs programs to promote ecumenical unity among Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Churches. One major event is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in which we worship, pray and sing together in both Protestant and Catholic churches. Sadly, we cannot all share Holy Communion together yet, but we continue to look for ways we can witness as one to the Hong Kong society. Ecumenical broadcasting is another way that we unite in Christ by sponsoring radio programs and services that are supported by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the Orthodox Christian Church in Hong Kong and HKCC. I am pleased to serve in the radio ministry as a Producer for four weekly religious broadcasting programs aired on the government station RTHK.
Along with our ecumenical mission, HKCC also is a founding member of the Colloquium of Six Religious Leaders. As the representative of the Protestant churches on this interfaith body, we have great opportunities to get to know and cooperate with other religious groups such as Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Confucianists (Catholics being the 6th ‘religion’). Interfaith relations are generally positive in Hong Kong. This may be attributed to the spirit of acceptance and tolerance which characterizes an international city as well as the fact that no one religion dominates in terms of numbers in Hong Kong. Each Lunar New Year, the Six Religions come together for a gathering as well as jointly publishing a springtime greeting to the public. There is also a celebration for China’s National Day on October 1st to which all religious groups are invited. Then throughout the year, there are interfaith dialogues and mutual visitation to each other’s worship centers and activities. Lastly the Six Religions are charged with the administration and oversight of four multi-faith prayer rooms at the Hong Kong International Airport. All these are ways that HKCC seeks to build harmony and goodwill among people of faith to bless the city and country.
It has been my privilege and honor to be a part of an ecumenical agency that not only works for unity in Hong Kong but also is a member of the regional Christian Conference of Asia and the global World Council of Churches. Thank you for your support of our wider ministry in Hong Kong through your prayers and financial contribution to Global Ministries. At every level and with every partnership, we have the chance to proclaim God’s redeeming message of faith, hope and love though Jesus Christ. May the Lord continue to use us all as instruments of His peace for the healing of the nations and to the glory of our Creator God.
Judy Chan serves with the Hong Kong Christian Council in the area of ecumenical communications, bringing Christians from the Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches together in ministry through radio broadcasting. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission and your special gifts.