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FR MANUEL MACHADO – We want to understand our youth and its motivation

– Marco Carvalho

The expectations of the younger generations and the celebration of the missionary dimension of the work developed by the Catholic Church are the main priorities of the Diocese of Macau for 2019. This year will also see the start of the redevelopment of the Catholic Center, the chancellor of the Diocese, Father Manuel Machado, told O Clarim.

This New Year starts with a bang, with the celebration, by the end of the month, of the World Youth Day, in Panama City. It’s a major event, but one in which Macau won’t be officially represented. Nevertheless, “youth” is a key word for the Diocese of Macau in 2019 ….

With the beginning of the New Year, we have also witnessed the start of what was defined by the Bishop as a triennium dedicated to youth. The Diocese wants to boost its approach to Macau younger generations, to understand the kind of expectations the local youth nurtures towards the Church and to devise the best way to answer them, their fears and their wishes. In the last Sunday of December a few boys and girls were invited by the Bishop to take part in a Youth Forum. Bishop Stephen Lee heard what they had to say in order to understand what their expectations are. Most of the activities that the Diocese intends to promote this year will have the young as their main focus. Meanwhile, the Diocese will create a Youth Commission. There’s already the Diocesan Pastoral Youth Center, but we want these different bodies to pool their efforts, so we can draw the right conclusions from this youth triennium. This initiative has already started.

It’s the most important task but not the only one …

No, it’s not. The Diocese is also trying to devise a way to answer the challenge made by Pope Francis, who exhorted the Dioceses all over the world to dedicate the month of October to the missionary dimension of the Church. One hundred years ago, in 1919, Pope Benedict XV published the apostolic letter Maximum Illud, which focused precisely on this aspect. October is usually dedicated to  missionary work, but this year we want this celebration to be special. A few months ago we asked the Institute for Civic and Municipal Affairs authorization to organize some activities both at the Tap Seac Square and at the Ruins of St Paul’s. We are still waiting for an answer. Nevertheless, what we want is to underline the missionary nature of the Church. Macau has always played a central role in terms of missionary activity and we would like to rekindle that dimension of the faith with this sort of initiative. We will try to devise a way to combine both these pastoral activities. We didn’t organize any meeting yet to discuss these plans in a detailed way, but the main aspects of both the initiatives are already defined. At a completely different level, 2019 should be the year in which the redevelopment of Catholic Center should finally start.  We have provided the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau with all the necessary paperwork. We still need to get the green light from the Government, but we hope the process to unravel this year, namely with the demolition of the existing building. We are perfectly aware that it will take three or four years to finish.

It will allow the Diocese to recover one of its most important assets …

Exactly. This is the kind of undertaking that catches people’s attention. Let’s see if the process really takes off this year. That is, at least, our wish at the Diocese. We hope the plans can be approved and the construction work can start.

You were mentioning the Youth Triennium. What are the main challenges concerning Macau’s youth? We are witnessing, all over the world, a certain detachment coming from the younger generations towards the Church. The Mass is no longer a family tradition and there aren’t many who still pray at home, alone or with their families. Is it still possible to recover this kind of practices?

Well, our Bishop, aligned with the Opus Dei charisma, has been working with the aim to recover a few aspects and practices that some can see as more traditional. In the past, some of the efforts promoted to attract the younger generations were not very successful. In the middle of December, the Diocese held the ceremony of the sacrament of reconciliation for the youth, with a very reasonable number of youngsters. The Diocese is, in a certain sense, promoting the return to some devotional practices that might be seen as somehow more traditional, but the truth is they seem to be effective. Here, in Macau, we face a very specific issue. The local Catholic Schools play a very important role spreading a message of acceptance and understanding and promoting the Catholic values, but most of the kids that study there will leave Macau once they finish secondary education. Nowadays we have already some good universities in Macau and a few of them will choose the University of Macau, the University of Saint Joseph or Macau Science and Technology University, but most of them, nevertheless, will go abroad – to China, to Taiwan, to Australia or even to England – to complete their education. Even if we do a terrific work in their formation years, there’s always a three, four- year period in which the Diocese loses track of these kids. When they return to Macau, if they return at all, the connection they had to the Church is not that strong anymore.  There’s always one or another that keeps that connection alive, but they are not the rule, they are the exception. With the Youth Triennium Bishop Stephen Lee wants to understand what are their fears and expectations and what can the Church do to help them grow, both as Catholics and persons. In my parish, the parish of St. Joseph the Worker, we don’t receive many young people. Most of these kids vanish after they finish secondary education. Is there any thing we can do to stop this bleeding? I am not quite sure. A colleague of mine is trying to create some synergies with some of the local universities, but he cannot reach more that three or four kids at a time. We have been discussing what we can do to challenge this situation …

These three years that the Diocese will dedicate to the youth will allow, in a certain extent, a diagnosis to be drawn …

Precisely. I think that’s precisely the idea. This first year will allow the Diocese to establish a diagnosis. The objective, as I was mentioning, is to understand what Macau young people want, what are their wishes and their expectations and what can we do in order to reach to them. It is never easy to work with young people. In Macau, the family nucleus is, somehow, diluted: it is no longer as strong as it used to be. In the Catholic Schools we deal with kids everyday that never had the kind of family life that we were used to in the past. Many of these kids are being raised by the family’s maid, women from the Philippines or Vietnam that are away from their own children. The support that used to be given by the parents is not as strong as it used to be. The Church and the parishes should jump in and extend their support to this families, but I am not quite sure how this can be done. Most of the time, the efforts made by the parishes work for a brief period of time, while they are still something new, but then people will stop showing up  altogether. With the Youth Triennium, the Diocese wants to understand our youth and its motivation, how can they help themselves and the others. We want to propose solutions, but sometimes it’s not really easy because they themselves still don’t know they want, what is their purpose. It’s not easy to propose something when you don’t know what you will be proposing about. I have been living in Macau for more than fifteen years and one of the biggest challenges that we face is precisely that one of devising what the expectations of the faithful are. This doesn’t happen with the younger generations only. It’s a wider problem.

You were also talking about the Extraordinary Mission Month and you mentioned a very curious detail: a celebration in the Ruins of St Paul’s. What kind of celebration were you referring to? A Eucharistic celebration?

We haven’t decided yet. The committee responsible for the organization of this missionary month will hold a meeting later this month to discuss in detail how we will celebrate the missionary nature of the Church. Right now, two ideas have been tabled: the Diocese wants to promote a sort of carnival in Tap Seac Square in the beginning of October. The idea is to allow Macau’s population to know a little bit better the parishes, the schools and the remaining bodies that make part of the structure of the Church. The purpose is to have music and a few shows, precisely to attract the youngsters. On the other hand, we would also like to hold a Eucharistic celebration in the Ruins of St Paul’s. The last time that venue hosted a diocesan celebration was in 2004, in the Year of the Eucharist. Many things changed since then. Nowadays it’s not always easy to obtain the necessary approvals. I was the one who wrote the letter asking the Institute for Civic and Municipal Affairs and I explained that the idea was to celebrate a Mass there on a Saturday evening, in order not to harm any eventual touristic activities. We didn’t get any answers from the Government yet, so everything is left open.

Nevertheless, the proposal was already made to the local authorities …

Meanwhile, we made a few informal contacts and we were told that we shouldn’t expect any problems. But, as we had a few changes in the last few weeks, with the creation of the Institute for Municipal Affairs, we will have to wait. Let’s see if we can do it or not. Either way, we would like to organize something in the Ruins. It’s a very important place for the local Church. We can always commemorate anywhere else, like we did two years ago, when we celebrated the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy at St Paul’s Schools. The Ruins are, nevertheless, truly iconic. They are a very meaningful place for the local Church.

You mentioned just now the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy … In 2019 the Holy House of Mercy celebrates 450 years. How will the Diocese commemorate this anniversary?

I am not quite sure. To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of that. We will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the inauguration of the Church of Saint Joseph The Worker. It was the last church to be built before the handover. The Macao Special Administrative Region will commemorate twenty years and so do we at the parish. I am not aware of any other celebration, but it’s frankly possible something is being planned that I am not aware off.

The Macau Diocese will focus its pastoral action in the younger generations and also in the role of Macau as an important center for missionary activity, a role that the territory has resumed once again. Macau is one of the oldest dioceses in Asia … This Extraordinary Mission Month is also an opportunity to celebrate this renewed vitality of the Diocese?

Yes. The Pope asked the Dioceses all over the world to make an effort to rekindle this sort of missionary spirit. In Portugal, for instance, the Church went a step further. The episcopal conference will promote not a missionary month, but an entire missionary year. It’s already happening and it is something that will happen along the entire year. Portugal has always been a missionary country. It has sent priests to different parts of the world. The Portuguese Bishops thought it could be a good occasion to revive this particular characteristic of the Portuguese church. In Portugal, the concept of missionary voluntary work is starting to get some very good feedback, mainly within the church. I am talking about brief periods of voluntary work in places like Africa, mainly the African countries of Portuguese Expression. There are many young people that wish to take part in this kind of experiences and the Portuguese Episcopal Conference realized this and is actively promoting this sort of activity. In Macau, nowadays, we have a different kind of missionary activity. There are a few missionary priests that come from other places to work in the territory. Nevertheless, I agree that we need to rekindle that old reputation of Macau as a missionary center, having in mind that we have China just across the border.

Talking about China … Will we see any major advances on the relationship between Beijing and the Holy See in 2019 after that breakthrough agreement that was signed last year?

I have my doubts. If it is true that the agreement between China and the Vatican was, as you were saying, a breakthrough, we are still witnessing in some parts of China the authorities increasingly tightening control over religious activities. The signals we have been receiving from China are very much contradictory. On the one hand, I think there’s the intention of opening up slowly, but we are still seeing a toughening of the circumstances in which most Chinese Catholics live. I am not sure if we will witness any change, but I am kind of sceptical about it. I don’t think the process will evolve as fast as we are expecting it to evolve. The next time a Bishop is ordained we will see. In Hong Kong, there has been some resistance, but in Macau we are one with the Church. If the Vatican signed the agreement it’s because they probably know things that we aren’t aware off. We accept the Pope’s decision. The agreement is already something important, but it is still too soon to realize what can the future reserve to the Catholic Church in China. Some of my colleagues sometimes spend a few days in China and they are eyewitnesses of this sort of tension. Things might improve, but it is not easy.

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