Sister Marianne Farina (left) visits with Professor Mary Yuen, from the Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Sister Marianne participated in a conference in Hong Kong on "Teaching Catholic Social Ethics and Civic Education."

Conference addresses Catholic social teaching in Hong Kong

Sister Marianne Farina, professor of philosophy and theology in the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, had the opportunity to participate in an international conference in Hong Kong, China, earlier this year. Because of her work as a professor of Catholic social teaching, Sister Marianne was invited to attend the "Teaching Catholic Social Ethics and Civic Education" conference produced by the Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The need for this program arose from the belief that Catholic social teaching helps to sustain the 1997 arrangement of "one country, two systems" that guaranteed civil liberties and autonomy in Hong Kong. Twenty years ago, the People’s Republic of China resumed its sovereignty over Hong Kong, which made China a country where two systems coexisted—a socialist system in mainland China and a capitalist system in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Given the social and political circumstances in Hong Kong, the goals of this conference were twofold:

  • To discuss the research about teaching Catholic social ethics and civic/national education in Hong Kong’s Catholic schools; and
  • To exchange viewpoints and share experiences of teaching Catholic social ethics and civic education or citizenship education at various levels in different countries.

The topic of Sister Marianne’s presentation was "The Encyclical Tradition as a Dynamism for Teaching Catholic Social Justice." She discussed how engaging with the encyclical traditions can be a "reading of the signs of the times" that focus on moral and justice implications. The goal, she said, is to see encyclicals as giving shape to our understanding of justice rather than as simply historical records. Approaching the encyclicals in this way provides academic and pastoral resources for the formation of active citizenship in society.

Sister Marianne was one of 15 presenters at the conference attended by more than 60 teachers and students from local Catholic universities, schools and organizations. "This conference was different from others," said Sister Marianne. "We worked as a consultation team sharing our ideas on social justice and best practices for ways students and communities can be formed by Catholic social teaching. These conversations occurred during meals and other times—it seemed whenever we could we were fully engaged with one another about methods for promoting justice and peace."

Presentation and discussion topics included research and analysis about the Catholic Centre’s school project; Caritas International reports on religious and moral education in Hong Kong; and cultural identity studies of teachers in Hong Kong’s Catholic schools. Subjects such as professional ethics training, real-life dilemma (RLD) models for teaching ethics, and intercultural education for global citizenship also were part of the conference. "There was good global representation," Sister Marianne added, "with participants from the United States, Asia, Pacific-Rim and various parts of China."

The Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong will publish information from the conference in a book due out later this year.

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