Fr. Joseph Tsang

Fr. Joseph Tsang

June 29, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Father Joseph Tsang says a life without God can never be a life of fulfillment.

Only when Tsang decided to follow Jesus did he achieve peace and spiritual liberation.

Tsang, the pastor of Edmonton's Mary Help of Christians Chinese Parish, was the guest speaker at the charismatic prayer breakfast at Chateau Louis Conference Centre June 13.

"When I was in elementary school I had everything I wanted but I was not happy without God," said the 59-year-old priest. "The first 10 years of my life was one of continuous daily boredom."

Even play and fun couldn't fill his young heart. He tried liquor and found it terrible. Then he tried his father's Cuban cigars, and "it almost killed me."

"The point is a life of creative play and fun without God is a life of continual boredom."

So he decided to pursue a life of intellectual excellence. At age 11, he had already read more than half the books in the Hong Kong public library – the fiction section.

Despite his erudition, Tsang "failed" in school. "My parents could not believe that their kid could come 36th in a class of 40 when on the intelligence scale I had scored 99 percentile for my age group."

Nevertheless, he graduated from high school with "double first prize" and soon after began teaching at an elite Jesuit school in Hong Kong.

Tsang was happy there. However, his drive for intellectual excellence overwhelmed him. He loved to win at everything. Even worse, he liked to brag about himself, and he still does.

As he fought what he calls his "winning urge," Tsang almost went too deep into the spiritual life. He took yoga and at one point was ready to go to Japan and become a Buddhist monk.

"But in the end Jesus Christ didn't let me go," he said. "He didn't let go of me."

Instead, he went to Vermont for a two-month retreat around Christmas. "I thought I need to get to the bottom of mystical contemplation."

At age 26, Tsang quit his job at the Jesuit school and went to Taiwan. There he found a job as staff writer with an international trade journal of electronics and engineering.

After four years he got bored and became a "real journalist" covering politics, business and finance for a major daily.

"I never thought I would become a priest after that," he mused. "In fact NBC tried to hire me as a financial journalist."

Tsang said "no" to NBC after the archbishop of Taipei told him he was sending him to Rome to study to be a priest. He was ordained in Taipei in 2002 and, in 2013, came to Edmonton on a three-year contract.

STREET CONFESSION

While travelling in Europe following ordination, Tsang met a homeless girl who wanted the sacrament of Confession right there in the street. He quickly discovered that if the girl had not gone to Confession at that time, she would have killed herself. She was suffering from severe physical, psychiatric and spiritual sicknesses.

"But after Confession I saw her in church some times. She was okay," related Tsang.

"I thought maybe this is what I'm supposed to be doing to give people freedom. Helping people in worse condition than me is a very precious work that I'm enjoying."

Tsang became familiar with the charismatic renewal movement in Hong Kong, where he completed a Life in the Spirit Seminar in 1990. A decade later, while studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, he wrote a thesis on healing.

Tsang later attended a retreat at the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, with national charismatic leaders from 80 countries.

BODY VIBRATED

"One night the American leaders prayed for a big outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this Chinese priest," he recalled. "My whole body was vibrating vigorously. Electric currents were shaking my spinal column.

"Those American leaders at the table were so moved by the exceptionally strong outpouring of the Holy Spirit that even men had tears in their eyes after they laid hands on me."

Tsang said he received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues.

"The Lord gives these gifts to us not for pride," he said. "We are supposed to receive the charisms with thanksgiving. They were given to strengthen the faith of other people in the community."

Nevertheless, he uses the gifts to help himself, but also to overcome his obsessions.