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from issue no. 01/02 - 2012

Who the new Chinese Cardinal is

by Gianni Valente

John Tong Hon was born on 31 July 1939 in Hong Kong of non-Catholic parents, the eldest of three children (with a sister and a brother who is currently living in Canada). At two years of age the Japanese invasion forced his family to move to Macao. Then his parents, to remove him from the dangers of war, entrusted him to his paternal grandmother, who lived in a village in Guangdong province. At the end of the war the family was reunited in Canton and he started elementary school. Meanwhile his mother received baptism first, soon followed by all the other members of the family. When his father fell ill with tuberculosis, it was she who maintained everyone with her teaching job.

At twelve years John Tong entered the seminary of St Joseph in Macao. After high school, in 1957, he went on to the Holy Spirit Seminary in Hong Kong to study philosophy and theology. In 1964 he was sent to Rome, where the Second Vatican Council was still in progress. In Rome he obtained his licentiate and doctorate in dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Urbanian University. He received his priestly ordination from the hands of Pope Montini on 6 January 1966, together with members of his course of study. When he returned to Hong Kong he took up residence at the seminary, where he continued to live after his episcopal appointment.

In 1980, Tong was placed in charge of the new Holy Spirit Study Center, the renowned center for documentation on the life of the Church in China, which also published the magazine Tripod. In 1992 he became Vicar General of Archbishop Cardinal John Baptist Wu of Hong Kong. In 1996, John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong a year before the return of the former British colony under the jurisdiction of China. With his spirit of mediation, in that delicate situation Tong participated also in the negotiations conducted in view of the transition. In January 2008 he became first of all bishop coadjutor and then (15 April 2009), bishop of the diocese where he was born. In August 2008 he participated at the opening of the Olympics in the stadium in Beijing, as an official invitee.

With his elevation to cardinal, the Sacred College of Cardinals numbered three Chinese for the first time: along with him, there are the Salesian Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, his predecessor, and the Jesuit Paul Shan Kuo-hsi. John Tong is however the only one who is less than eighty years old.

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