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CS speaks at Wah Yan College International Conference


Following is the speech (English only) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, at the Wah Yan College International Conference 2004 this (November 14) morning:

Distinguished guests, Wahyanites,

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. I must first welcome all of our guests who have flown in from overseas - not so much prodigal sons, but rather the prodigious sons of Wah Yan College, returning to the fold. Welcome home. Naturally, I must also extend my warmest regards to all Wahyanites taking part in this conference. Gatherings such as this only serve to cement, even more firmly, the brotherly bonds of friendship that exist between all of us who were fortunate enough to have received such a good education.

As you can imagine, I do receive quite a lot of invitations to speak. But this was one invitation that I simply could not refuse. The reason is simple: my old school holds a special place in my heart. When I graduated 40 years ago, I certainly did not think that I would be standing here in front of my old school mates one day, entrusted to speak on how Wahyanites can contribute to the prosperity of Hong Kong and China. On the other hand, the fact that I am here talking to you today is, in no small part, due to the education and guidance I received at Wah Yan, and the values instilled in me during those formative years. My time at Wah Yan has had a profound impact on my life. I still attend Mass here every Sunday, and every week when I come back I can still see myself running around the playground with my classmates getting into all sorts of mischief. It is a great way to revive the spirits after a hard week at work. So, I am both delighted and humbled by your invitation. I hope I can do you justice and would not disappoint you.

Central to the topic you have set me, I believe, is the question as to whether or not we, as individuals, really want to do something. There is no doubt in my mind that Wahyanites can and have made tremendous contributions to society. But, if we look within our hearts, we know there is plenty that we can still do, or should do, but don't do. Not enough time, not enough money, no great benefit, why bother, too difficult, too easy, who cares? These are some of the refrains that I am sure all of us used from time to time when faced with the choice of 'doing more', or going with the flow and the status quo. So, I believe the first thing to do is to ask ourselves a basic question: Do we really want to follow the example of Ignatius Loyola and 'do more'?

If the answer is yes - and I'm sure it is - then we should strive for a whole-hearted willingness to serve. The depth and breadth of the talent gathered in this room, the life experiences you all have, make it impossible for me to highlight particular areas in which Wahyanites may be able to contribute to the betterment of our society. That is for each and every one of us to decide. But what we can do is reflect on some of the Wah Yan values, the Jesuit values, that can guide us throughout life and in the choices we make as members of human society. I believe that if we stay true to these values then it naturally follows we will all make our own special contributions to Hong Kong and to China.

The history of the Jesuits is a history of service to Christ and the Church through service to all. I believe that this remains a fundamental truth today, and that the values instilled into us during our education and upbringing are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago; or indeed 450 years ago when a zealous Jesuit named Francis Xavier became the first of his faith and order to take the word of God to China. Francis died in December 1552, four months after landing on a small island off the coast of Toishan. He died in the service of God, with his gaze affixed on the great Mainland of China. He died, I guess, disappointed that he could not finish the job that he had set out to do. But the fire of his spirit and faith were firmly embedded in the hearts of the men who would follow. Among them, great scholars such as Matteo Ricci - 'Li Ma Teu' - Adam Schall von Bell and Ferdinand Verbiest. Their unwavering persistence, their desire to teach and apply their talents and their respect for the Chinese people, in turn, won them great respect and recognition, Imperial favour and, most important, the ability to bring more of mankind within the embrace of the Church. I was fortunate enough to have visited their graves recently while in Beijing. It was a very moving and humbling experience, not just because of what they achieved but because they were pioneer Jesuits in our country. Among the pioneers also were the Irish Jesuits who taught you and me at school here in Wan Chai, or over in Kowloon. We are, if you like, a legacy of Francis Xavier's zeal to serve.

Today, it is indeed a great challenge for us as men and women to contemplate, or even understand, the type of sacrifice that Francis Xavier made. We live in a world where we hear 'I and me' more often than we hear 'us and we'. We live in a world of extreme competition and success at all costs. We live in a world of massive consumerism fuelled by clever marketing that tempts us to buy all manner of goods that we don't really need but want anyway. We live life in the fast lane of the information super-highway. There is an enormous amount of background noise drowning out the call to service that was part of our education and upbringing. So, as hard as it is in this ever-changing world, we must try to turn down that static so we can hear, loud and clear, that clarion call to service.

This I believe we can do through prayer and personal reflection - itself a daily discipline that Ignatius Loyola instilled into the hearts of his Jesuit brothers and fathers. We think about what we have done during the day that's what the Jesuits do everyday; to think about what we have failed to do during the day; to think about how we might have done better, or do more tomorrow. It is a discipline and a habit worth developing. It forces us to look into our hearts and to see whether we, through our actions as human beings, have made a positive contribution to our community. And that could be as simple as a kind word to a colleague in need. For people in politics like myself, should we ask whether we have done enough to understand others' points of view? Is adversarial politics the best means to achieve a goal in the service of our people? Is a confrontational strategy the best way to secure greater democracy for ourselves in the SAR, in the Chinese nation of 1.3 billion people? In short, have you learnt the lessons of Ricci, or Schall or Verbiest?

The call to service can take many forms, and raises several questions. Should we set our goals high and endeavour to bring about important changes to society? Or, should we focus more on mundane matters that may not bring about a change in society as a whole, but perhaps lessen the burden for one or two people in need of help. Should I lead, or should I follow? Again, we can find our lead from our Jesuit teachers.

In God's eyes, each of us is unique with our own talents to nurture and develop. We can use these gifts for self-gain, or we can use them for the good of the human community. We can decide to keep these gifts, or decide to give them back to the world in which we live. In answering this call to service, we might also care to look at where there is the greatest need for our talents, or where we might be able to do the greatest good. In assessing whether we are really making the best use of our talents, or serving people properly, the Jesuit Secondary Education Association of the US asks us to ponder these questions: Are our efforts helping those being served to grow as people? Do those being served become healthier, wiser, more free and more autonomous? Are they likely themselves to answer the call to service? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit, or at least not be further deprived?

Two weeks ago, I was in Dublin and I asked for and I was given the permission to visit one of the celebrated school there called Belvedere College, another Jesuit school. I was immediately at home when I went to the school. Similar faces of the father, lay headmaster by the way, the students bearing the same ambition, happiness, frustration, as we all do at Wah Yan. And I am privileged enough because of my habit of going to church. And that over the last seven years, I have been able to visit many churches in the Mainland of China. I have been to most of the parishes in the main townships in the Pearl River Delta. I have been to a cathedral in Xian, in Chengdu, all the Catholic churches in Shanghai and all the churches in Beijing. And I have been in the Catholic church in Urumqi. There are times that brought tears to my eyes when I heard about our fathers, our priests suffering. But I also rejoice over the last few years seeing the changes that have been made that claddings which used to surround our churches in our Mainland in the 60s, 70s and 80s in order to shield the people from Catholicism are gradually moved. The churches in Wangfujing in Beijing was in its full glory. The churches in Shanghai are also in very good shape. Congregations are growing. Masses are being set more regularly. Not only in 6 o'clock in the morning but now in more civilised hours of 7 o'clock or 8 o'clock in the morning. Things are changing but as early missionaries in China remarked, "This is a huge country. We should be humble enough to learn from it".

In his book 'Jesuits in China', our former teacher, Father Ryan, chronicles the adventures, the hardships, the successes, the failures of the Jesuit mission in the Mainland from the time of St Francis Xavier to the late 1940s. It is not very long - just 105 pages - but contains enough information and names to provide a fairly good overview and understanding of how the Jesuits approached their daunting - some might say impossible - task. It is, as I mentioned earlier, first and foremost a testament to service and self sacrifice. Indeed, not a few of the Jesuit fathers and members of their flocks paid the ultimate price for adhering to their faith, and refusing to denounce it. Others suffered severe hardship, were beaten or locked in prison. Yet, they prevailed. And it was their unstinting desire to serve with all their hearts - to strive for a Greater Good - that instilled in them such values and traits as persistence, courage, humility, respect for their fellow man, and a love of learning and imparting knowledge. They are revered before. They are revered even now in the heart of Beijing in a national shrine.

Let's face it, these guys were great adventurers - but they were blazing a trail for Christ and the Church, not for glory or golden trinkets. That is why they were - and remain - so passionate about their work and mission. They were, quite often, totally blind to the challenges that they set for themselves. And, once they had set themselves a task they devised ways to get around their various problems with creative and innovative thinking. They used their tremendous knowledge and talents to engage the educated and elite in China, knowing that in Chinese culture knowledgeable and educated men were held in high esteem. They were not quick to criticise, expecting a perfection of others and ignoring their shortcomings. People like Ricci, Schall, Verbiest were respected not only because of their superior knowledge but more because of their humility, understanding and tolerance of the differences between what they espoused and the set of values, political and social circumstances of China of the time. They persistently tried to learn from strangers and to cultivate understanding and empathy. They went for the long haul. Shouldn't we do the same?

Let's look again at Francis Xavier - he, himself, one man, travelled enormous distances throughout South and East Asia in the decade before he died. He travelled over large parts of India, the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago. He went to Japan, and then to China. If you factor in the way that people travelled in those days it is really quite amazing how far and wide he travelled and how much he achieved. Some of you may have seen a show on TV called 'Amazing Race', where teams of two people compete in a race around the world by grappling with various challenges, dealing with language barriers, poor infrastructure, and odd-tasting food in different countries. It is sort of like a back-packer's survival course and at the end of it is a US$1 million prize for the first team to cross the finishing line. Now rewind 450 years and think of how tough that must have been for Francis Xavier. That was his 'Amazing Race' - but what kept him going was Amazing Grace. He never once doubted the viability of his mission. He didn't stop to think that perhaps all of China might just be a little too large for one apostle to handle on his own. Long before Nike came up with its well-known marketing slogan, Francis Xavier must surely have said to himself : "Just do it!"

My fellow Wahyanites, ladies and gentlemen, we are very fortunate to have benefited from a Jesuit education. Yes, it was demanding at times - it was demanding most of the time if memory serves me correctly. But there were sweet times. But it was demanding because our teachers wanted to challenge us - not so much to be the best, but to do our best. They knew that with the right academic and spiritual foundation, all of those who passed through these school gates on graduation had in them the potential to make a difference. And I truly believe that we have all tried, in our own ways, to make Hong Kong and China a better place. Long may that continue.

Finally, I feel a most fitting way to end today, would be to take my lead from the old school song:

Old Boys of Wah Yan cherish fond recollections

Of those who here taught us the best things to choose;

home of our friendships, our hopes, and affections,

O Wah Yan all our lives we'll be worthy of you.

Thank you.

Ends/Sunday, November 14, 2004


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