(Photo: Lee Pellegrini)

Toward reconciliation and harmony

Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Stephen Chow, S.J., urges Boston College Class of 2024 to strive for unity and understanding in a divided world

Cardinal Stephen Chow, S.J., who as bishop of Hong Kong has advocated a rapprochement between the Vatican and China, implored the Boston College Class of 2024 to strive for unity and understanding in a time of division and discord.

“We must start with the promotion of dialogue and constructive action among parties of different stances, prudently and meaningfully,” he told the Alumni Stadium audience at BC's 148th Commencement Exercises on May 20, urging them to reject the narrative which holds that only one side can be right and dominant and instead work toward a commonly desirable future—one which “you and your peers are going to construct together with the inclusive love of God in your discernment, transcending the borders of politics, beliefs, faiths, values, economies, ethnicities, and realities.

“Dear graduates, it is not too early to contemplate how you are going to construct your future together, and what it will look like,” said Cardinal Chow, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his “commitment to the Catholic faith as a means to inspire and unite.”

Read the full text of his speech here.

Following the main Commencement event, the 4,488 members of the Class of 2024 received their undergraduate and graduate degrees at separate
ceremonies held around campus.

L-R standing: Dana Barros, Mary Skipper, James O'Connell, BC Board of Trustees Chair John Fish, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston Cristiano G. Borro Barbosa. Seated: Cardinal Stephen Chow, S.J., University President William P. Leahy, S.J., Sister Maria Teresa de Loera Lopez (Photo: Lee Pellegrini)

In addition to Cardinal Chow, the University presented honorary degrees to: former BC and pro basketball player turned entrepreneur Dana Barros ’89; Sister Maria Teresa de Loera Lopez, M.S. ’19, a beloved servant of the poor in Mexico; Boston Health Care for the Homeless President James O’Connell; and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper. Read the degree citations here.

In his Commencement greeting, University President William P. Leahy, S.J., praised the Class of 2024: “Boston College is a better place because of them, especially their energy, goodness, and generosity.  They started amid the challenges of COVID-19 and persevered; we remember and are grateful.”

Foreshadowing Cardinal Chow’s remarks, Fr. Leahy pointed to global flashpoints such as Ukraine, Gaza, Haiti, and Sudan as indicating the need for “people of intelligence, faith, and commitment to work for the good of society, to help root out racial, social, and economic inequality, and to strive to bring an end to poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice.”    

Fr. Leahy gave his customary invitation for family and friends of the graduates to stand so that the Class of 2024 and others in Alumni Stadium could thank them with a round of applause “and a quiet prayer.” He also cited the valuable role of BC faculty and staff and the “generous gifts of time, advice, and financial resources from Boston College alumni, friends, and benefactors” in the graduates’ success at the Heights.

Finnegan Award winner Francis (Fran) Hodgens of the Carroll School of Management, flanked by Fr. Leahy, at left, and Board of Trustees chair John Fish. (Lee Pellegrini)

Cardinal Chow—who praised BC for “being bold enough to hold a live Commencement” given recent tensions on college campuses—shared five learnings he said could serve as the basis for fostering reconciliation and harmony in a divided world: “a preferential option for unity, not uniformity”; “collaboration with love so as to give hope”; “expect and respect differences out of love”; “be a bridge-builder”; and “be your own winner.”

He touched on his own efforts at bridge-building between the Catholic Church in mainland China and the universal Church, during his visit to Beijing last year and other dioceses last month. Although there were attempts to “package these trips with a political wrapper,” he said, the main objectives were to promote dialogue and friendships, and look for opportunities to collaborate while supporting each other’s pastoral endeavors.

“One insight that I have gained is that everyone, no matter whether she or he is an important official or not, would love to be connected, treated with genuine respect, and listened to with interest. I am never good at small talk, but I am learning to listen with empathy. With this, we can relate to each other with openness for mutual development.” 

Professor of Economics Joseph Quinn receives the Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Award. (Lee Pellegrini)

Cardinal Chow also urged graduates to look beyond a culture that emphasizes winner-take-all competition.“Instead of competing with others, we can work hard on bettering our past selves, better than who we were yesterday, a month, a year, or a decade ago. Am I noticeably or sufficiently better in the endeavor than where I was last? So, if the focus of competition is on ourselves, we can afford to help each other improve, so that no one will lose out, which means we can become winners in our own right.”He added, “This is what I have understood from Jesuit education. I believe you and we are the ones who can work together, and with God, to make all things new.”  

Also at the ceremony, Francis (Fran) Hodgens received the 2024 Edward H. Finnegan, S.J., Award as the graduating senior who best exemplifies the University’s motto, “Ever to Excel”, while Professor of Economics Joseph Quinn, a highly respected teacher, mentor, and colleague who has held key leadership positions at Boston College, was presented with the Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J., Award in recognition of his distinguished career and significant role in advancing the University’s mission.