You may know that in January of 2014, Pope Francis made changes to the process for giving the honor of the title “Monsignor” to priests in the Catholic Church. In order to discourage what the Pope has called “careerism” in the clergy and to highlight the extraordinary witness of priests who have given uncommon service to the Church, the Pope required that diocesan priests be over the age of 65 to qualify. The Pope also is being more selective in approving who receives this honor. (This does not change the status of those who are currently Monsignors.)
Therefore, it’s quite significant that Bishop McGrath was given permission by Pope Francis to bestow this honor on one of our Diocese of San Jose priests on May 11, 2014. At their 3:00p Sunday Mass, the San Jose Chinese Catholic Mission gathered with Bishop McGrath to recognize the extraordinary witness that Father Matthew Koo has given to the Christian faith for all his adult life. Here is a brief account of Msgr. Koo’s qualifications for this honor:
Monsignor Matthew Koo was born in Shanghai, Mainland China, on July 20, 1933, of Catholic parents, Francis Koo and GungYu Fei. His early education was in Shanghai at Saint Aloysius Primary School, Saint Francis Middle School, and Saint Francis High School. In 1953, he entered Zikawei Seminary, and he was arrested on September 8, 1955, because he was an active member of the Legion of Mary.
In February of 1956, Father Koo was sentenced to five years at a labor camp in Heilungchiang Province and was transferred to a prison in Shanghai on August 15, 1956.
In November of 1956, he was sentenced to seven years in a labor camp in Chinghai Province “because he opposed reformation.”
When his sentence was completed in 1965, Father Koo was forced to continue in an agricultural labor camp until 1984.
Father Koo was secretly ordained a Deacon on February 20, 1988, by Most Reverend Fan Chung-liang, S.J., then Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai. The same bishop ordained him to the Priesthood on February 22, 1988.
Father Koo enrolled in theological studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois, and he completed his studies in 1993 at Saint Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California.
Father Koo began service in the Diocese of San Jose on June 15, 1993, as Chaplain to the Chinese Catholic Community of the Diocese. This appointment was renewed until Father Koo’s retirement, on June 30, 2008. Because of ongoing instability in his beloved China, Father Koo sought incardination in the Diocese of San Jose, which Bishop McGrath was happy to grant.
In his retirement, Monsignor Koo continues to serve the Chinese Catholic community in the Bay Area and in Southern California.
I share this with you because May 24, the Feast of Mary, Help of Christians, had been established by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2007 as a day for the whole Church to pray for the Church in China.
In continued support for this observance, Pope Francis said in 2013:
… 24 May is the day dedicated to the liturgical Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, venerated with deep devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai. I ask all the world’s Catholics to join in prayer with the brothers and sisters who are in China, to implore from God the grace to proclaim humbly and joyfully Christ who died and was raised, to be faithful to his Church and to the Successor of Peter, and to live daily life in the service of their country and their fellow citizens, in a manner consistent with the faith they profess.
Making our own a few words of the prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan, I would like to invoke Mary with you in this way: ‘Our Lady of Sheshan, support the commitment of all those in China who among their daily labours continue to believe, to hope and to love, so that they may never be afraid to talk to the world about Jesus and about the world to Jesus’.
Mary, faithful Virgin, sustain Chinese Catholics, make their challenging tasks ever more precious in the eyes of the Lord, and give growth to the affection and participation of the Church which is in China on the journey of the universal Church.
The Church in China continues to need our prayers because a growing number of Chinese are openly seeking Christ for the first time in decades. Praying for the Church in China this May 24 and 25 would be a simple yet significant way to encourage your parishioners to exercise their call to profess, celebrate, and witness to the Christian faith and to stand in solidarity with Msgr. Koo and all those who witness to the Christian faith even in the face of persecution.
Therefore, Bishop McGrath and Rev. Carlos Alberto Olivera, Pastor of the San Jose Chinese Catholic Mission, request that you and your parish mark this Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25, 2014, with prayers for the Church in China.
image: Our Lady of Sheshan