The Lay Mission Movement in Hong Kong has come a long way. Being a member of a missionary congregation, one of my primary interests is preaching the Gospel to those who have not heard the good word. So in 1989 when I heard the two young women were coming to Maryknoll, New York to take part in Maryknoll’s Lay Missionary Program, I was delighted. At the time I was a member of Maryknoll’s General Council. The two were a nurse from Caritas hospital, Miss Elizabeth Woo and a young teacher Jessica Ho. They came, went through the four month orientation program, and left to work with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in Tanzania.
A few years later, they returned to Hong Kong. I was even more delighted when Jessica began thinking of trying to interest others in overseas mission. That was the beginning. Then step by step the Hong Kong Lay Missionary Association came into being. While growth as been slow and at times painful, the seeds have taken root, and if it is God’s work it will flourish.
When I first began studying in the seminary, there was still a heavy emphasis on the role of the clergy and religious in the Church. In many ways the laity were considered people who were “served” by priests and religious. By the time I was ordained Catholic Action was in vogue. Catholic Action was defined as an invitation to the laity to participate in the Apostolate of the hierarchy. By the end of the 20th century there have been even greater and more significant changes in the role of the laity.
In the early Church there were no distinct groupings into laity and clerical. There were only Christians who formed communities where all felt equal, shared their gifts and even material possessions. In the third century, at the time of Constantine, hierarchical structures as we know them today began to surface: bishops, priests, deacons. Later came religious congregations, societies and other forms of religious life and a clear division between laity and clergy. In Vatican II, a new understanding of Church as the whole People of God emerged with an emphasis on baptism. All are Christian faithful among whom some are clerics. All are equal but with different roles and functions.
In the Church there are many different ministries, charisms, roles and functions, but principal among them is mission. This is a call that we all share. The Council Fathers state clearly in the document on missionary activity, “the Church is missionary by its very nature” (A.G. 2) . As such we all have a responsibilities to evangelize. The Church does not have a mission; mission has a Church. “The whole Church is missionary and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the entire People of God”(L.G. 35).
In the history of the Church it has been principally priests and religious who have carried out the missionary outreach, but that is changing very quickly. There are several thousand lay people presently in overseas mission; both men and women, single and married. New lay missionary societies like Hong Kong Lay Missionary Association are developing in many countries throughout the world, responding generously to God’s call to, “Go make disciples of all nations.”
Fr. John Cioppa, M.M.
(Last modified: 25-11-2019)