The new "number two" at the Vatican's Evangelization office – who will be ordained an archbishop by Pope Benedict next month – said on Jan. 21 that he hopes to be "an instrument in building bridges” with China, his native country.
Fr. Savio Hon Tai-Fai's remarks came in his presentation to the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He was appointed as secretary of the department on Dec. 23 and arrived in the office on Jan. 21 for his first day.
The congregation's own Fides news agency spoke with him during the presentations. Fr. Hon Tai-Fai first thanked Pope Benedict XVI for choosing him and "especially for the attention and the love he shows towards Asia and China in particular."
He also expressed his gratitude to the head of the department, Cardinal Ivan Dias, for his warm reception, remarking on the positive atmosphere within the congregation. He said he looks forward to working with so many experts in international missions.
In fulfilling his "new and delicate role," Fr. Hon Tai-Fai said he "would like to be an instrument in building bridges with China."
This prospect is a welcome one for the Church, which hit a wall in relations with the Chinese government last November when government officials went forward with the ordination of a bishop without the Pope's approval.
Further blows came when the government convened a meeting of the state-founded and run bishops' conference, in some cases forcing bishops to attend. Bishops who have been approved by the Vatican and others who have not were appointed during the meeting to oversee the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association and its government-appointed bishops' conference. Neither is officially recognized by the Holy See, although some affiliated bishops are in good standing with Rome.
With relations at an impasse, the Vatican made a surprise decision in selecting Fr. Hon Tai-Fai for the position in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Hong Kong priest brings a wealth of knowledge and experience with the Church in China and the world to Rome.
Fr. Hon Tai-Fai is a member of the religious order called the Salesians of St. John Bosco. After completing studies in London and Rome, he served in various leadership capacities in the order in Asia including as provincial superior.
He has also worked extensively as a professor of theology at the Holy Spirit College Seminary in Hong Kong and as visiting professor in other Chinese seminaries. He has been a member of the International Theological Commission since 2004 and of the Pontifical Academy of Theology since 1999.
The priest was also responsible for the translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Chinese. The expert in theology has produced a number of academic papers and written for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
Now he will be putting all of that experience to work at the Vatican's congregation in charge of the transmission and dissemination of the faith and the coordination missionary activities in the entire world.
He told Fides on Jan. 21, "at the beginning of this task I am very excited and I am also aware of the responsibility of this role which covers such a broad field: taking care of the pastoral life of over 1,000 ecclesiastical areas.”
He hoped to bring "fresh impetus" to the congregation's work in the world, especially in "countries of ancient traditions and cultures, such as China and India.”