Christmas Letter 2017

Rev. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.
St. Margaret’s Church
2A, Broadwood Road
Happy Valley, HONG KONG

jvmccabe.jcl@gmail.com

Christmas 2017

Today in the town of David,
a Savior has been born to you.;
He is Christ, the Lord!” Lk. 2: 11

Dear Friends,
Only a few weeks ago, I was processing paperwork to renew my work permit for Hong Kong, and it dawned on me that I have completed two full years here – and a few weeks – and I am now approaching my 3rd liturgical year in this wonderful, exciting, challenging, and always enjoyable place. And as I now sit and edit this – hopefully for the last time – it is 23rd December and I am feeling all the pressure of getting this set and finally published on-line by tonight.

For my Annual Christmas Epistle this year – the one sent by e-mail – I will attempt to imitate the style I used during the years of my ministry in the Russian Far East added to my somewhat dormant “blog” from the Fragrant Harbour, adding here and there photos to mark the events mentioned. So, sit back, pour a coffee, tea or something else, and bear with me as we review this past year.

Christmas 2016

Last year, working with a newly formed parish advisory committee, I had the idea of sponsoring a Christmas Day party, since our Mass usually ends by 1:30 p.m. and most people would be late getting to a place for brunch or lunch – so why not have our own party? None of us knew really what to expect, but with the cooperation of a half-dozen people, a volunteer Santa Claus, and a lot of good will, we managed to host a very enjoyable, relaxing and fun party for about 100 people.

      

Our Parish Church and Community

 

For these past 25 months, I have been blessed and privileged to serve the people of God in this sacred space built by Italian architects at the foot of Leighton Hill in Happy Valley, using what was a very difficult rocky terrain on which to construct this first church in Asia dedicated to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, and completed in 1925. Originally a parish mission placed under the direction of the Pontifical Institute for the Foreign Missions (P.I.M.E from Milan), it was turned over to diocesan hands some 2 decades ago.
The parish community is one of the largest (some claim it is the largest number-wise) in the Diocese of Hong Kong, serving a largely Cantonese-speaking community, but also having weekly Masses in English, Mandarin, Japanese, French, German, Spanish, and Indonesian in its boundaries. The pastoral staff is the pastor with 3 full-time assistants and one retired Chinese diocesan priest, now 90 years old and a priest for 60 years who still covers daily and weekend Masses. I am the one foreigner.

Our parish covers the Hong Kong city sections of Happy Valley and Causeway Bay, as well as part of eastern Wan Chai, and western Tin Hau and forming a wedge with the wide side at Victoria Harbour (Causeway Bay) and the pointed part high up into Jardine’s Lookout and reaching slightly down into Repulse Bay on the south side. Given the fact of an English community Mass at 12:30 p.m. (a blessing for late risers or those living at a distance; not so great for people with children or luncheon dates), we include on weekends people from as far north as Sai Kung and parts of the Northern Territories, and as far south as Lantau Island.

I am blessed with a small parish “council within the council” to serve us and our specialized ministries and help me with our English-speaking group that numbers a few thousand. We meet on a bi-monthly basis, but more frequently when planning for Christmas or Easter.

The rhythm of parish life in St. Margaret’s revolves around a full weekly schedule of catechumenate classes, and pastoral groups for teens, elders, Bible sharing, Legion of Mary, ministries (Eucharistic ministers, Lectors, many choirs), and specialized groups (such as the Cantonese Opera Society, Tai Chi, elder care), and we rely and are blessed by a wonderful core group of volunteers who work closely with our parish manager and staff (secretary, accountant/treasurer, building custodial staff). We also have a very active kindergarten that operates on the grounds of the parish center (3rd and 4th floors) with the #1 rated kindergarten in this area of Hong Kong, operating two separate sessions per day for a few hundred children each session.

The beautiful interior of the church above is complimented by one of the more dramatic facades of all the churches in Hong Kong, with 32 steps leading up to the main door.

January – Home Blessings, Lectors, and a Special Confirmation

For two years now we have sponsored the custom of the home blessing for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and our volunteers prepared this year some 3,000 home blessing packets to be blessed and distributed on January 8th after Mass. It was also the day chosen to confirm two young adults who had not yet been Confirmed in the past, but were soon to be married in the Church. And so both Lenka Korbova and Brian Lee received Confirmation at the Mass. Later in the afternoon, we gathered again for the annual Installation of Lectors, and this year the lectors for the English community were given a special cross to wear — and once the Cantonese and Mandarin Lectors saw this…. they TOO had to have them. Thanks to some generous gifts from friends, I was able to purchase some 120 of these crosses for all the Lectors in our large parish.

     

February – Lunar New Year, quick travel and pastoral work

My weeks are a balancing act of RCIA (adult initiation for Baptism) classes on Mondays and Thursdays, usually two to three days a week spent at my office in the diocesan tribunal reading cases, or meeting with other judges. I do the majority of my tribunal work from my office here in the parish, where it is easier to see people and conduct the trials and interviews.

This year, the Lunar (Chinese) New Year began on 28 January (and stretches in Hong Kong 15 to 16 days of festivities, banquets, cultural rituals and days off. Our parish is noted for “Costume Day” – usually the 2nd weekend in the 2-week long cycle – where people come in traditional costumes or some form of them, and we sponsor a large entertainment of lion dancers, and servings of a large suckling pig, and are entertained by dancers, songs, and the loud din of drum playing.

I presided at the wedding of Brian Lee and Helen Kwong at the cathedral on Sunday Feb. 19th, which was a rather elaborate ceremony followed by a large banquet. Helen is from our parish, and I prepared Brian for confirmation before the wedding, and so it was a relaxing time to enjoy a fun couple.

I also managed to get away for 3 days to Japan (Lake Biwa) to conduct a series of talks for the Maryknoll community working in Japan on topics of pastoral theology, marriage and canon law. I do enjoy teaching, and while it takes a lot out of me to prepare lectures, it is good to keep up that discipline.

 

         

March: Lent and the journey of the Elect

With the Lunar festivities behind us, we began our annual Lenten journey. Back two years ago, a young woman named Frankie Ng and a young man, named Arthur Siu both met me on my first week or so here. Each of them was scheduled to marry a Catholic in 2016, and they had become curious and intrigued about Christianity while preparing with their future spouse, and wanted to know how they could study to become Catholics.

From that simple encounter, I quickly took up the challenge of establishing a full-scale adult catechumenate program, and in this Lenten period of 2017, my first group of adults (who were accompanied by a few preparing for Confirmation, and a couple preparing to enter into full communion with the Church), would now become “the Elect” – those preparing for Baptism at the Easter Vigil on 15 April.

Following the establishment of the first class of RCIA students, a second class (scheduled for Baptism at Easter 2018) enrolled and so I had the two groups come together in church on the First Sunday of Lent, for one group to enter the last stages of preparation while the other formally entered their first year. In a strange twist of fate, some of them knew each other in the past but since the classes meet in different nights, they had never met, and happily found schoolmates or acquaintances among the two classes.

I also continued with a small men’s group meeting on Saturdays to discuss various topics of faith and faith formation (and a teenage group of about 7 who met twice a month). To round out March, I flew to Seoul, Korea to attend a meeting of the Regional Council of Asia (our governing board) – since I had been elected and appointed as a local coordinator for China-Hong Kong-Philippines earlier in February and so now had to add these meetings to an already-overcrowded calendar.

     These are photos of welcoming the new catechumens.

I also had the joy of baptizing Noah, son of Joline and Stijn at whose wedding I presided in April of 2016, and who was born in February.

Holy Week and Easter – Ceremonies, Rites and welcome new Catholics!

The liturgies of Holy Week began on Palm Sunday with a solemn procession of Palms and then we had our Holy Thursday and Good Friday ceremonies in the parish hall, returning to the main church for the Holy Saturday Vigil, the baptisms and confirmations, and for the Easter Sunday Mass the next morning.

Already on 1 April 2017, the catechumens who were preparing for baptism, accompanied by others from the class who were already baptized, went to the retreat house at the Little Sisters of the Poor for a day of prayer, reflection and a very moving sharing at the end of the day, as I was privileged to witness how their faith had grown and matured so much.

 

 

The darkness of Holy Saturday and the singing of the Exultet before the Liturgy of the Word and the Baptisms.

 

Blessing water and baptizing Frankie above, and Arthur below and their group and confirmation photos.

         

Our confirmandi.

Preaching on Easter morning.

BAPTISMS: A particular joy has been in baptisms and this has been an especially BIG year for those: both of adults who were baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil, as well as by dozens of children I have had the privilege to baptize in this period. The photo below is my favorite for the year although the others I am posting are also memorable, but this was a wonderful moment captured on November 4th when I had the joy to baptize Jaroslav Gulevskiy, the son of my Russian godson, Evgeny, and his wife, Alena, who came to Hong Kong with their older son, Vladislav, who I baptized 6 years ago in Rome.

 

Yaroslav is almost leaping into the baptismal water! Below are a number of photos of other infant baptisms over the year, including the daughter of Arthur and his wife Karen.

         

 

MARRIAGES: The wedding bell over the front façade entry to our church is a sign also of one of our most popular pastoral activities, since we have the distinction of hosting some 250 or more weddings a year in our parish. The Hong Kong government regulates “places” where weddings can take place, and so, people who are Catholic can register to marry in our church no matter what parish they belong to, and we have some days – those numerically “auspicious” dates – when we can have up to 5 weddings in a day, causing quite a few traffic jams and the sight of two wedding parties posing on the steps (one entering, one leaving) simultaneously.

I have had my own fair share of marriages and marriage blessings (validations) in English, but also one in Russian over the past year, and here are a few photos of those:

            A favorite photo of little Brandon accompanying his parents to the altar and introducing them to me, and giving his Daddy permission to marry is Mommy! Just so we understand, this was a marriage “validation” or blessing, as they had been civilly married for some years but now wanted to make their marriage sacramental.

Priests’ Renewal

A very difficult task I had this year was to conduct 5 different 2-hour lectures for diocesan and religious priests and sisters (and deacons) on topics to do with nullities, marriage problems and proper pastoral care for couples in these difficulties. The topics are difficult in themselves, but speaking on these for 2-hour periods was a real challenge.

May and the Beginnings of the 40th Anniversary celebrations

This year marked the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood (21 May 1977). For months I was soo caught up in pastoral work, I barely thought about the celebrations, but suddenly May was here.

Thanks to two of my sisters, Caren and Barbara, and thanks to the help of some great friends from St. Ignatius Parish, Hicksville, NY, and the cooperation of the pastor, I was able to combine the participation of my high school class (Brooklyn Preparatory School, Class of 1967) 50th Reunion with a Mass of Thanksgiving the following Saturday in early May. It was a great time seeing so many of my high school classmates and then a few days later having so many of my family members make the trip to LI for the Mass, joined by friends from my grammar school class, high school class, and many friends on Long Island for this day.

While it was a day of joy, there was a tinge of deep sorrow for my brothers and sisters and cousins as my young 2nd cousin, Eric lay critically ill in a hospital nearby where I had gone in the middle of the night before the Mass to anoint him and spend time with him and his family. In a poignant way, those few hours with Eric and his parents (and later his brother arrived), reminded me of “why” I was ordained. Sadly, he passed away a few hours before my 2nd set of celebrations here at the parish in Happy Valley, and my Mass that morning was dedicated to him and to his bereaved family.

The Prep class of 1967!

    Top L – grammar school classmates, top R are from high school and bottom is the extended clan.

Within a week I was back here in Happy Valley and the actual date of my anniversary was also the day for First Communions in the parish.

Right after that Mass, I had two baptisms and then rushed over to the parish hall for what I thought would be a quick reception, but turned out to be quite a party!

         

By the time we were coming to the end of the month and the beginning of June, the parish organized a major party to combine three celebrations: Father Francis Li’s 90th Birthday and 60th anniversary of ordination; my 40th anniversary of ordination; and the pastor, Fr. John Kwan’s mother’s 100th birthday. We had a large Mass and celebration for the 3 honorees in the church followed by a major banquet of 90 tables (with 12 people per table) for us.

The MASS.

         

I had some 12 tables of guests and spent most of the evening moving from table to table to receive and return “toasts” (customary). My BIG error was wearing a white shirt that, sadly, became badly soiled when a waitress bumped backwards into me and all the red wine soaked through the shirt. It looks like all I was doing was drinking but – believe it or not – I kept the one glass until it was poured over my shirt; poured a second and held that pretty much the whole night. It is the ONLY way to survive such parties.

A Roman Pilgrimage

Earlier in the year a few parishioners expressed interest in a Rome pilgrimage. At the time, I did have plans in the back of my head to visit Rome sometime during this jubilee year especially to greet my two mentors there, Cardinal Jozef Tomko (now nearing 94) and Cardinal Ivan Dias (who sadly died during my visit in June).

A small group began organizing and they made the travel so easy as they are almost all adept at such travel! My job was to help set up an itinerary and prepare sites to visit (the major Basilicas, other places of interest, the Vatican Museums, the Scavi, and a number of walking tours through historic areas/ We added two side trips to Assisi and Florence, and so it was a very busy 7 days.

I had to help them find decent restaurants for meals, and this was not too difficult, and it seems they were all very happy with the results. For those accompanying, it added a deeper point of departure to prayer in this jubilee year knowing that it is for people – friends – such as these that I was ordained. They made the days fly by, and I only wish I had been even better prepared!

         These are Joan Lewis on my R and Arbp. Protas Rugambwa on my L, a former student and close friend from Tanzania who is now the Archbishop Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, my former office in Rome.

As my pilgrims made their way back to Hong Kong, I continued on to the US and to the last of the Jubilee celebrations, this time at Maryknoll, NY where the journey began in 1977.

 

Returning to Hong Kong in early July, I came just as the typhoon season started and we had one of the worst of these in the last two decades or so – mostly on weekends. I set up a WhatsApp group for parishioners so that, if the apish were closed because of a typhoon a nd then the storm passed, I could – withy 45 minutes notice – schedule a Mass for everyone.

I also had to spend hours preparing a number of couples for weddings overseas, including doing all the paperwork for the “Pre-Nuptial Inquiry,” and the training courses and innumerable files and documents.

NEW LIFE: Towards the end of July, we were happy and honored to receive two newly-ordained Maryknoll priests to our mission here in Hong Kong – a sign of needed vitality and life. Fathers Daniel Siwoo Kim, M.M. from Orange, CA, and Peter R. Latouf, M.M., from Detroit, MI joined us, and just now have completed their first of at least 6 terms of studies in Cantonese at The Chinese University in Shatin. Each of them is assigned to a parish community “in residence” but also helping with English liturgies, confessions and talks and retreats these days. They have become a great help to me in covering the work in my parish in Happy Valley, especially if I have to travel.

With their arrival, I was given yet another job or ministry, that of being their “mentor.” As I write this letter, I just completed conducting a 3-day recollection for them both on Macau and here in Hong Kong. These men (Daniel on my R and Peter on my L) have been a great breath of fresh air for our community as well as for the Diocese of Hong Kong.

         

But we also have had the joy of witnessing and welcoming the ordinations of two diocesan priests at the end of July, Fathers Xavier WONG and Vincent WOO. Many of you know Father Xavier as my “evening exercise partner” from the times we go out for nightly walks around the Hong Kong Racetrack in Happy Valley. Father Vincent lives with Fr. Daniel Kim mentioned above, and works with me since he was recently admitted for Canon Law studies at The Catholic University of America in D.C., my alma mater. The photo above is the ordination ceremony of Frs. Wong (kneeling L) and Woo (kneeling R) before the Cardinal, and in front of the other bishops and presbyterate of the Diocese on July 29th. Below is Fr. Xavier with me on one of our nightly walks.

     

Catching up with old friends

When I was passing through Rome, by coincidence, one of the former seminarians for whom I was his Vocation Director – now a priest  there – was in Rome. What a happy surprise to meet up with Father Stephen Kaombe after so many years (and to practice my Kiswahili again).

I also had an opportunity to return to the States in October to attend the annual Canon Law Society of America meeting in Indianapolis, and meet up with former classmates from The Catholic University of America School of Canon Law.

I had two further local trips – both to Taiwan in September and October for Maryknoll meetings, and by the time these trips were all behind me, my godson from Khabarovsk, Dr. Evgeny Gulevskiy and his wife, Alena and their two sons, Vladislav and Jaroslav arrived for a 12-day visit and vacation.

It was a wonderful time to relax with them, brush off my Russian, and spend some free time seeing places I had yet to visit in Hong Kong. For a day or so, a candidate for Maryknoll, Mr. Matt Luby (who studied Russian in college) was a guest and he also had a chance to practice his Russian! Genya and Alena were introduced to parishioners and the wife of a former classmate of Fr. Xavier is from Russia and so she joined us twice for time together – as did the couple at whose wedding I presided in July, where Diana, the wife, is Russian. This made the visit of the Gulevskiys even more enjoyable.

           

No sooner had my guests departed and I began catching up on my work — and suddenly it was time for my 68th birthday celebrations, and here in Hong Kong, they seem to take birthdays to a level I never experienced before. The parties began on November 11th and ended on 4th December!

My doctor had already started me on a rough diet, and it was a real trial to face all those birthday cakes without really taking much.

             Nice to have a professional pastry chef in the catechumenate class! Thanks for two amazing birthday cakes, Gary~

         

In this year filled with so many great memories and moments of grace, as we approach the feast day of the Birth of Christ I wish each of you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a NEW YEAR OF 2018 filled with blessings, good health, grace and happiness.

As I journey now with the two groups of adult catechumens, my thoughts and prayers are with you also, you whose support and prayers have brought me to this place, at this time in history, and at this stage in my own vocational journey. My life here at St. Margaret’s is a true joy, surrounded by so many people who have taught me how to continue to serve, to minister and to love. They have welcomed me, made me part of their lives, and let me accompany them on their own journey of faith. Just at the beginning of this month, I had the new adventure of blessing an enormous luxury cruise liner and – on the day I returned to port – inducting a new class of adult catechumens into their first year, after they completed the first of 4 terms of training. These last photos are a collage of these two events.

       

And how to bless a luxury liner!

                 

Friends, as I share this lengthy note with all of you, I also share my thanks for your prayers and support over these many years. These mean a lot to me as I continue to try to be that light on the path of salvation for others, the “light in the darkness” that shows the way to Christ and to the Church through preaching, teaching, and by example of interacting with my wonderful parishioners each day.

At this Christmas season, I pray in thanksgiving to God for 40 years of active ministry, and most especially for the privilege extended to me to be a light for others on their own journey.

O God, who have made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light, grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth, may also delight in his gladness in heaven. [Collect for Christmas Midnight Mass]

Fr. Joe McCabe, M.M.

[Below is the information for sending donations that are always needed and helpful for me to continue my work. Some final photos close this BLOG.]

There are two ways to help:

1. Through a check made out to “The Maryknoll Fathers,” and sent to:
Cashier’s Office
P.O. Box 301,
Maryknoll, NY 10545-0301
with a note specifying the donation is for the MISSION ACCOUNT (#1811) of Fr. Joseph V. McCabe, Asia. This is tax deductible and all funds go to my missionary work.

2. If you wish to send a personal check made out to me (Joseph V. McCabe), this helps me more directly, but it is not tax-deductible. Such personal checks should be mailed to my sister:
Rev. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.
c/o Mrs. Barbara M. Mills
43 Shore Road
East Setauket, NY 11733-3932
Barbara can deposit any personal checks into my bank account in the U.S. PLEASE DO NOT SEND ANY CHECKS TO ME IN HONG KONG.

       

The end of the Lenten Journey and into Easter Glory and Light!

The entire period of my first Lent in Hong Kong/China went by so quickly, I hardly had time to take all of it in. My days and evenings were filled with meetings, classes, commuting between my parish in Happy Valley (Causeway Bay) and the tribunal office (Mid-Levels), and constant preparation: preparing homilies, reading and writing nullity cases, conducting “instructions” (the hearing for a case), attending planning meetings for Holy Week celebrations, training the altar servers, lectors and choirs, and confessions…. hours and hours in confession.

From the 3rd through the 5th Fridays of Lent, I would be in the confessional from 6:45 p.m. through to about 9:00 mp.m. non-stop. Then, given the number of Catholic schools within our parish boundaries, we would have mornings and afternoons set aside to here from 200-350 confessions per day of students. To this were those who called for an appointment to make a confession in my office, and then two days of parish confessions before and during Holy Week.

In this Holy Year of Mercy, I had given a talk to Catholic women on the theme of mercy, and used the talk as part of a short article on mercy and reconciliation, a theme I returned to on the last 3 Sundays of Lent with parables of people dying in tragedies, the story of the Prodigal Son, and that of the woman caught in adultery. Much of the preaching developed the theme of forgiveness, and how this is something each individual can do; and then that of reconciliation that takes two (reconciling one with another).

I also repeated a theme of the First Sunday in Lent where I used the tune and lyrics of a 1960’s song, “I Gotta Be Me” as well as the song from the musical “Godspell” “By my side” as two theme songs for Lent, promising the community to tie this all together somehow on Easter Sunday.

Just before my feast day (19 March) I had the pleasure of finally inaugurating my own part in the “wedding factory” that is St. Margaret’s parish in Happy Valley, the parish that hosts the most marriages per year.

The government of Hong Kong “designates” churches that can hold wedding ceremonies (churches, temples, and locales) and so not every Catholic church has the designation, and because of this, couples register not in their parish of domicile, but where they can find a date available. St. Margaret’s with his internal beauty and the large entry with the dramatic staircase and portico is a favorite for most brides.

Many will remember the luncheon I hosted for the couples over whose weddings I would be presiding in the coming weeks and months.

couples-i-will-marry-this-year1

Well, the couple on the extreme right, Enrica Chan and Pierre-Olivier Bakalag were the first to have me preside. Although the weather was the usual cold, gray and rainy weather we expect in March (winter), the wedding was a very happy event, and I was proud of this wonderful couple, the first of my intercultural weddings (which will be many).

Bakalag wedding 2

Pierre’s mother and grandmother made the long journey from Yaondè, Cameroon to witness their son and grandson’s big step, and Enrica’s parents flew in from Toronto. It was quite an international wedding, with many of Oli’s teammates (Pierre-Olivier is called Oli for short) showed up as did a whole class of Enrica’s students, all dressed in their formal prom tuxes for this happy occasion. It was a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, though as you can see, no one was wearing green, but we did have quite a mix of colors!

On my feast day of March 19th, I began with a seminar for parents and godparents for children to be baptized after Easter. Given the international nature of the English community (that includes, English speakers from many countries, as well as French, German, Swiss, Belgium, Italian, and Spanish couples as well as from many Asian nations such as Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines) the mix of couples was refreshing and challenging as they all come to these sessions with varying degrees of background in the faith and in the Church.

For many from Europe, they need to attend these courses to get a letter of “delegation” from us to have the children baptized in Europe (since baptisms and marriages are supposed to be regulated by where the person receiving the sacrament has domicile or resides). If one wants to receive either of these two sacraments outside of their residential parish, they simply have to get a letter from the pastor (and 99% of the couples have no idea about this). So I have mentioned it a few times in announcements in church, and we had quite a turnout of couples for the seminar.

Later that day, I presided at the baptism of a young child whose parents are from Ireland and live and work here in Hong Kong. I had met the couple and exchanged notes with them before the event, but never would have expected them to have over 75 guests attending (with some 6 godfathers for the boy baptized!!!). Well Rory will have lots of god-fatherly protection in his life.

HOLY WEEK BEGINS

Before we knew it, Palm Sunday arrived (together with especially bad rainy weather). For two days before the weekend, we had teams of volunteers working for hours behind the church and our parish center, washing and then cutting in small branches the palm fronds that had been imported from China and came covered in dust and pollen from their place of origin.

But it amazed me (and continues to amaze me) how coordinated this parish is in preparing the liturgies of Holy Week. They knew exactly how many palm branches would be needed, and our storerooms were filled with all the other supplies (Paschal candles, charcoal, incense, hosts, vestments, special books for the entire week in both Chinese and English, and special decorations both for the church and the parish hall). Rehearsals were conducted for each and every ceremony and the altar servers (we have a crew of some 60) under the careful guidance of their leaders (and ME!).

PALM SUNDAY

Because of the Passion Reading for the Gospel at each Mass, we were literally going from Mass to Mass with about 5 minutes in between. Yet, it all went very smoothly. The liturgy of Palm Sunday saw the church filled to capacity despite the awful rainy weather.

For the meditation after the reading of the Passion, I chose a favorite theme of the red rose — and for the first time, I was able to get my hands on a BIG rose flower with thorns! The theme is how through the rough and violent thorns the plant gives birth to a beautiful, fragrant bud and flower (so through pain comes glory). The thorns were very sharp (I was cut twice handling it during the homily).

But with this theme, and the beauty of the liturgy we began the week.

Palm Sunday icon 2 Palm Sunday 1 Palm Sunday 2 Palm Sunday 3 Palm Sunday 4 palm-sunday Icon

NEW VISITORS TO HONG KONG

A few days before Holy Week, we in Maryknoll welcomed to Hong Kong four seminarians from Seoul, Korea. These young men who have already completed their philosophy studies at the seminary (in Inchon if I am not mistaken), and their required military service, are now in a special formation program partially sponsored by Maryknoll for service in a very difficult and challenging place, that has not had priests for over 65 years. This is so similar to my own experience when I went to the Russian Far East in 2001 that I have a special interest in their success.

Because of this, I invited these men, Francis, Stephen, Matthew, and Gabriel, to participate (if they wanted) in the liturgies in my parish (they are here to gain a better fluency in English while also spending time in the mainland studying Mandarin).

Matthew Francis Gabriel Stephen from Seoul

So to my happy surprise, they took me up on the invitation and arrived in time to participate in the Palm Sunday liturgy. They were placed in one of two narthexes of our church (spaces to the right and left of the sanctuary). For many of the photos of Holy Week, they acted as my photographers which may explain the odd angle of some photos.

After Mass, as I had to meet one of the post-Easter brides (see below), and then meet with the choir, one of the senior altar servers (a solicitor for one of the major banking/investment fund houses in Hong Kong) took them out to a great lunch at the Cragengower Cricket Club!

After I finished my own works, I took them on a quick grand tour of downtown – taking the tram outside the church from Happy Valley to the HSBC headquarters, then a walk through Central, and then onto the Mid-Levels escalator for about 3/4 of a mile uphill, then down Ladder Road (an apt name since it is a steep climb up and down) to Man Mo Temple, then through the labyrinth of 1 story-above-ground passage ways that connect most of the downtown buildings so you never get wet in the rain… then through the IFC buildings and mall, and eventually on to their first ever ferry ride on the Star Ferry to Kowloon, a nice dinner and the finale being the laser light and sound show across the harbor.

Korean seminarians 1 Korean seminarians 2 Korean seminarians on Star Ferry

I got them safely into a taxi back outside the ferry terminal and off to Stanley where they are living now.

The four of them made every one of our Holy Week services, and the parishioners were very happy to meet them, and hopefully they will continue to feel at home at St. Margaret’s whenever visiting Hong Kong.

CHRISM MASS

Again in rain we (over 200 priests ministering and serving in the Diocese of Hong Kong) made our way to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass. Given the rain and the logistics of moving 200 of us in vestments from the diocesan offices to the cathedral under a phalanx of volunteers trying to protect us under umbrellas, the procession took over 25 minutes into the cathedral.

The Mass was beautifully celebrated by our bishop, Cardinal John Tong, with his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen, S.D.B., concelebrating (and marking the 10th anniversary of his own elevation to the college of cardinals), our two auxiliary bishops and so many priests, both diocesan and religious/missionary surrounding the altar, together with over 60 permanent deacons.

The vessels used for the sacred oils are enormous glass amphoras, with the one for Sacred Chrism placed on a special table in the sanctuary surrounded by spring flowers. we renewed our fealty to the Bishop and to our priestly vows,  and after the Mass as priests collected the oils for use now at Easter and for the rest of the year, the diocesan center hosted a large luncheon for us all with the Cardinal, and then we all headed home for the Holy Thursday evening Mass.

Chrism Mass 1

THE MASS OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

Given the large number of faithful in our parish (which is the largest parish in the diocese in terms of total number of Catholics), we divide the Triduum services among 3 venues: St. Margaret’s Church, the parish center, and Christ the King chapel in Causeway Bay. The English community alternates between St. Margaret’s Church and the parish hall with one part of the Chinese community, while the overflow form that latter community also attended services at Christ the King chapel.

Given this, we also host the smaller English communities that have Sunday Masses at Christ the King as well as at the Jesuit college (Wau Yen) and the Dominican college (Rosaryhill) in our parish.

For Holy Thursday and Good Friday, we (the English community) were in the parish hall, that – as at Christmas – was nicely and warmly decorated for the Holy Thursday Mass. However for a change we decided to have only ONE repository and that would be in the church, so that once I finished the English Mass, the faithful from my community would join the larger Chinese community for adoration in the church.

Since Holy Thursday is a workday, the number of people attending is usually small, so we were caught off guard with a larger-than-normal attendance this year.

Even before Pope Francis officially changed the discipline of the “Washing of the Feet,” we had opted to include men and women for this ceremony.

For the two evenings of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the community from the Christ the King Chapel take responsibility for preparing the liturgy with me, providing the choir and lectors for the readings, while we provide the servers and other personnel for setting up, so it is a bit daunting to work with two different groups, but thanks to so much good cooperation, it went well.

Below, I am chatting with Angela Leung, one of our parish leaders, and another Angela (from Christ the King) while the lectors and servers go over their roles, and I checked in with two of my soon-to-be brides, Nelsilya (with her future mother-in-law from NY) and Hiroka – both who are catechumens who would be baptized on Holy Saturday.

Holy Thursday 00 Holy Thursday 01 Holy Thursday 03 Holy Thursday 02 Holy Thursday 04

The liturgy went very well and finished just as the procession was starting in the church so there was an almost seamless meeting of the two communities for quiet adoration.

Holy Thursday 1 Holy Thursday 2 Holy Thursday 3 Holy Thursday 03 Holy Thursday 4 Holy Thursday 5 Holy Thursday 6 Holy Thursday 7 Holy Thursday 8 Holy Thursday 9' Holy Thursday 10

GOOD FRIDAY AND THE PASSION OF THE LORD

The Good Friday liturgies all took place at 3:00 p.m. as this is not generally a work day in Hong Kong.

We began the day with Stations of the Cross at 11:00 p.m. and I had 45 minutes before that of confessions, and then again from 11:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. for more confessions.

At 3:00 p.m. the hall was filled to capacity (some 600 on two floors) for the Liturgy of the Passion which begins with the quiet prostation by the presider, the Reading of the passion by St. John, the the special prayers or intentions, the Veneration of the Cross, and Communion.

Since we have the practice of only a single cross (and a rather large and heavy one at that), I decided to hold it alone for the entire period of veneration that took about 40 minutes.

The entire service lasted from 3:00 to nearly 5:00 p.m. given the number of people attending.

Good Friday Good Friday 6 Good Friday 7 Good Friday 8 Good Friday 9' Good Friday 10

HOLY SATURDAY

Holy Saturday morning was packed with things to do – including printing of my homilies for the Vigil and Easter Day, finishing the Prayers of the Faithful and announcements for the weekend, conduct my high school RCIA class, and then rush down to the church for altar server rehearsal and rehearsal with the catechumens for the Baptism that night.

It was funny hearing the altar servers use my new “name’ — SUPER PRIEST — after watching me hold the cross alone for the 40-some minutes the day before (something that had never happened, as the priests take turns, but I was on my own so I really had no choice, although two of the servers who are university students and built like half-backs were ready to step in if I wanted).

So… I am now “super priest” — which I given the release of the Superman film this weekend, is not that bad!

pirest minion 1

By 6:00 p.m. I was back in church to help with the set-up for the ceremony, then time for a quick cold shower to wake up, a cup of espresso, and soon we began the solemn liturgy on the portico of the church with the lighting and blessing of the Easter Fire, the inscription of the large Paschal Candle, and its lighting, and then carrying it carefully into the dark church – the only light coming from the flame of the candle (and the flash of our photographer). “The Light of Christ!”

Easter 2016 - Beginning the Easter Liturgy at church doors with lighting of fire Easter 2016 - Inscribing Candle and placing 45 nails into it Easter 2016 - Lighting the Easter Candle Eaaster 2016 - The Light of Christ at church entrance Easter 2016 - Carrying the Easter Candle

Once we reached the altar and placed the candle in the large stand and incensed it, I began the singing of the Exultet by the light of the candle and a small (but powerful) light that was used for the Liturgy of the Word until the Gloria.

Easter 2016 - Singing the Exultet

This was the first year that we used 8 readings (of the 9 assigned) for the Liturgy of the Word, but everyone stayed very prayerfully quiet, and the readers did an excellent job in preparing all of the readings, and the choir put together a great last-minute surprise of singing all of the responses for the readings despite many misgivings some weeks ago when I first suggested they do this.

Then I intoned the GLORY TO GOD, the bells rang out, the lights went on, the candles on the altar were lit, and our celebration took on even greater momentum as we moved to the Gospel.

Easter 2016 - Opening Prayer after the Liturgy of the Word Easter 2016 - Our choir Easter 2016 - Proclaiming the Gospel Easter 2016 - Homily jokes Easter 2016 - singing parts of the homily

The celebrants gesturing in the homily was because I had begun Lent (see above) incorporating two songs as a meditation, and at this point in the homily, I changed the words a bit (I inculturated or “baptized” them), and we had a sort of hum and sing along…

Finally it was time to call forward the 5 candidates for Baptism and bless the Baptismal Water (in a large Chinese urn for this service, and later in a gigantic copper vessel for the rest of Easter), and begin the Baptismal rites.

Since the font is at the front door of the church, but given my hesitancy to try to move the Paschal Candle, after I blessed the large vessel of water we carried a full glass pitcher of the water in procession with the elect and their sponsors to the font for the Baptism and receiving the white garment, and then they returned to the altar to receive the Baptismal Candle and then joined by another of my brides-to-be, we began Confirmation.

The 5 elect were Adam (Philip) [their baptismal name is in parantheses], Nelsilya (Frances Xavier Caprini), Siwen (Matilda), Hiroka (Clare), and Viola (Victoria). Adam is only 9, but has just survived two years of cancer and chemotherapy and so we made the decision to give him all 3 sacraments of initiation. Nelsilya is from Indonesia and will marry in the church here on 22 April; Hiroka is Chinese/Japanese (a rare mix, but with absolutely wonderful parents from Hong Kong and Kyoto), and will marry a man from Ireland on 2 April; then Siwen is from the Mainland but now with an Australian passport and working in Taiwan; while Viola who is from here now lives in California and completed her catechumenate in CA but since her daughter will be baptized by me on 3 April, asked to have her own baptism in the same church.

Easter 2016 - Calling foward candidates for Baptism Easter 2016 - Blessing the Easter Water Easter 2016 - procession of candidates and sponsors to the font Easter 2016 - Baptismal Liturgy Easter 2016 - Renunciation and Profession of Faith by candidates

N. I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Easter 2016 - Baptizing Adam (Philip) Easter 2016 - Baptizing Nelsilya (Frances Xavier Cabrini) Easter 2016 - Baptizing Siwen (Matilda) Easter 2016 - Baptizing Hiroka (Clare) Easter 2016 - Baptizing Viola (Victoria)

“Be clothed in Christ!” and “Receive the Light of Christ”

Easter 2016 - Our newly Baptized in their white clothing Easter 2016 - Receiving the Light of Christ and preparing for Confirmation

And then joined by Karen Ho (another of the brides-to-be, getting married on 9 April) we began the Rite of Confirmation with the laying on of hands, and then the anointing with the Sacred Chrism.

Easter 2016 - Laying on of hands (Karen) Easter 2016 - Laying on of hands (Adam) Easter 2016 - Laying on of hands (Hiroka (Clare) Easter 2016 - Confirming karen Easter 2016 - Confirming Nelsilya (Frances) Easter 2016 - Confirming Adam (Philip) Easter 2016 - Confirming Hiroka (Clare)

And that joyous moment in every priest’s life to finally present the newly baptized (and confirmed) to the community.

Easter 2016 - Presenting newly initiated to the community

Here is a photo taken inside at the offertory just to see the crowd.

Easter 2016 - View of the filled church

The rest of the Vigil Mass went well, they received their First Communion, and then it was finally time to sing the last Alleluias and go out into the dark evening! Bit not before the requisite photos of the newly baptized with me, and then with their sponsors and future spouses and family members!

Easter 2016 - Photo with newly baptized Easter 2016 Photo with newly Baptized and families

THE LORD IS RISEN, HE IS TRULY RISEN, ALLELUYA!!!!

EASTER MORNING

The morning Masses in the parish were a jumble of happy emotions and joy. Seeing the newly baptized mingling with the rest of the community, many from among our 280 newly baptized still wearing their baptismal garment, was wonderful. The English community Easter Mass was full to overflowing outside beyond the portico.

The theme was a continuation of the Lenten reflections, but with emphasis on the symbolism of Easter (and the Easter Egg!), more singing, a few of my Easter jokes, and a wonderful lively celebration of the Resurrection.

Easter 2016 - Our choir Easter Sunday congregation easter Sunday nave Easter Sunday preaching Easter Sunday and the egg Easter Sunday with the 4 Korean seminarians

Yes, that is my Easter selfie with the 4 Koreans who made every ceremony and took enough photos to fill a few albums.

But we were not finished.

As a nod to my years in Tanzania and Russia, we placed an “Easter Monday” Mass into the schedule for the blessing of the Easter Eggs and breads… and this was totally foreign here, but a good 140 people showed up for morning Mass, including some of the newly baptized, and we had a live celebration of Easter Monday – when in Tanzania the catechumens would return home from the central mission station, and in Russia where the faithful would bring empty bottles to church to receive newly blessed Paschal Water for the home.

Easter Monday 2 Easter Monday 1

 

HAPPY EASTER TO EVERYONE!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOST FROM LUNAR FESTIVITIES THROUGH LENT

Here it is the night of the 5th Sunday of Lent, and I am sitting here in my office, clearing up all the paperwork and notes from a long weekend, and planning now the holy Week rehearsals, meetings with the “elect” who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil, and also continuing my hectic schedule with RCIA classes, preparations for weddings, confessions, and working on piles of marriage nullity cases.

When I had my last entry it was the end of January, and preparations were going at a fever pitch for the upcoming Lunar (Chinese New Year). This would be my first experience of this major Asian holiday festival, and I was getting caught up with all the preparations and the fever of the last days.

NAC Guests

On January 30th, Maryknoll hosted 5 seminarians (3 priests in their last year and 2 deacons) from the Pontifical North American College in Rome at our residence in Stanley, and taking advantage of the presence of fairly-newly ordained priests, I “invited” them — literally the morning they arrived — to come straight from the airport to our parish to help in hearing the confessions of our parish school children’s CCD group. These young priests, although rightfully tired and exhausted as they were from the long flight and layover in Dubai, could not have been more helpful spending a little over an hour doing this act of mercy.

The kids were happy as they were in awe of young priests. At the end, the guys were noticeably  falling over and fighting to keep their eyes open,  so I got them into a cab and they went back to Stanley to sleep.

The next day, the 3 priests con-celebrated Mass with me and we were joined by one of the deacons too, and from that, after a quick change, I took them off for a lunch and then we went up to the Peak, and then to the Mo Man Temple and Soho, a ride on the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, and a short stop at a bar for bar-food and drinks, then seeing the lights at the harbor and their return via a stop at my place to get their bags, and back to Stanley.

Since one or two of them had been to Hong Kong before, they managed to get around on their own – visiting Macau for a day and sightseeing, although the weather was not on their side as this is ‘winter” and so days of cold and rain are the usual pattern.

I arranged for them a visit to our diocesan seminary in Aberdeen on 3 February and then they joined me for a quiet dinner in a French bistro here in Happy Valley (a thank you gift for all their help) and they again assisted us with our Blessing of Throats Mass on the Feast of St. Blaise, the first time in decades that this was done, with a nice gathering of many people (mostly intrigued by “what’s this Blessing?”).

I now know that if I ever get priest guests visiting, I can put them to work, so — to my priest-friends, welcome anytime!!!!

The Lunar New Year

The Lunar (Chinese) New Year is a festival that lasts 15 days (16 if you count the “eve”). I never knew this and I was hearing already many urban tales about the banquets and the custom of Lei Cee (the exchange of New Year’s envelopes…. with cash in them…), and other parts of this long and historic celebration that is so fixed in the Asian culture.

My “wing man” in the rectory is Father Francis LI Yu-ming, an 89-year-old priest from the China Mainland who has been living and working in Hong Kong for decades, and he took it upon himself to help me prepare.

cardinal-tongs-celebration-11

He has become a very good and dear friend in the priesthood, and a wonderful and patient guide for me on “all things Chinese.” He is in many senses my “wing man” — usually sitting next to me at innumerable banquets and meals to quietly whisper “Avoid that,” or “That is OK to eat,” or better, “That tastes awful so don’t let them put it in your plate!”He teaches me the polite customs and rituals of meals, politely serving those to your right and left before someone serves you (he and I sit next to each other to “control” what is placed in our bowls!!!), the custom of lightly tapping two fingers on the table as someone offers more tea, or more food (a way of expressing, I think, “thanks,” or “yes please”).

He also is great as my translator, and the one who gets me out of these sometimes interminable banquets.Since he and I are the “old men” of the rectory, we use each other as an excuse to leave long banquets and gatherings with, “Oh, I have to walk Father Francis back to the rectory now,”  as we laugh escaping yet another ponderous banquet or gathering…. and running home for his siesta, and me returning to my usual work. We always go together to any event that requires us using public transport or a car, and often at night, we are about the only two in the rectory for meals, and he loves Italian “noodles” (as he calls them… e.g. spaghetti), and he is also a great chef in his own way of Chinese dumplings which he loves to make when our cook is off.

As the start of New Year (8 February) got closer, noting we had already decorated the place pretty well. we were finally blessed with two or three days of warmer weather and sunshine, so Fr. Francis suggested (I think the better word is “badgered”) that I make the “must do” trip to Victoria Park here in Causeway Bay (next to Happy Valley) to see the New Year’s preparations.

Victoria in her Park

So – believing (wrongly??) that my “wing man” would always be watching out for my good,  off I went on the tram making the slow but sure trip to Victoria Park.

The weather was warm, the trip was enjoyable, but the crowds of shoppers on this Saturday, February 6th made the movements of the tram slow. I arrived at the park and was stunned by the amount of people there — thousands and thousands.

Booths were set up in 6 or 7 passage points going from east to west in the park, with alternating sections for moving (one section was west-to-east; the other was east-to-west). The problem was that with thousands of people (and not all of them obeying the ONE WAY signs), it was pure chaos, and one did not walk but one baby-stepped, inch by inch — and I did this for some 2 hours.

The major displays were flowers as these are a BIG gift item for the New Year – from water lily plants, to kumquat and miniature orange trees, to orchids and other flowers in every color and shade imaginable.

Victoria Park 2 Victoria park 3 Victoria Park 4 Victoria park 5 Victoria park 6

I made it home relatively unscathed and when I got to our apartment, I ran into my “wing man” who smiled and said, “So, how did you like it?” His mischievous grin gave him away — he KNEW I would be overwhelmed with the crowds and chaos, but felt “You have to experience it once!”

To make up for that, after our quiet dinner of spaghetti, he came to my room and told me to turn on the TV as there was a 5-part special (in English) on the customs of the foods and rituals of the Lunar New Year. It was fascinating as it covered various parts of vast China from the north, to the far west, and then to central and south China.

The New Year BEGINS

The eve of the Lunar New Year was a Sunday (7th February) and so we anticipated the celebrations with the special New Year’s Mass (yes, they have their own version of this, with special readings, prayers, and blessings). For the English community, it was the first time in many years that they joined in with the Chinese community in these prayers, and it pushed me to read up on many of the customs so that I could explain them for those who were as clueless as I had been. (Below are photos of our apartment decked out for the New Year with spring plants, the required live cherry tree blossoming and with Lei Cee envelopes as decorations, the potted kumquat and orange plants, and the facade of the church decorated for the day.

Apartment New Year 6 Apartment New Year 4 Apartment New Year 3

New Year 2

For that particular Sunday luncheon, though I generally do not eat with the others as I am always at Mass when they have their big Sunday lunch, our cook Fong Xe had prepared a special New Year’s lunch and she insisted that I had to have some (even though I was going to eat it at least 2 plus hours after the other priests).

She carefully placed the special meal all on one plate with a side of soup (we never have any other beverage with a meal except some form of Chinese broth or soup). I stared down and saw this:

New Year Eve dinner

The soup (in the bowl to the upper right) is a sort that I have learned to avoid… I am still trying to figure out what is in it, but whatever it is… I know I do not enjoy it. On the plate were overcooked jumbo scallops still attached to the shell, reconstituted dried and smoked oysters, some chicken wings (that were not yet quite cooked, a slab of steamed lotus root, a claw of crab, some tofu and sticky rice, and under it all…. the strangest thing I had ever seen (which… in the McCabe tradition going back to our childhood, after cautiously playing with it with my chopsticks to make sure whatever it was… it was dead, was carefully and tightly wrapped in my napkin for later disposal). The mystery item will be revealed later in this post.

So with our apartment and church all decked out with the festive plants and decorations, we had an enormous turnout of parishioners for our two New Year’s morning Masses. Large wicker baskets (4 in all) were prepared with the “parish Lei Cee” gifts, specially chosen for this year’s New Year in the Year of Mercy, so everyone received a small Jesus Mercy icon on a cross fitted to a magnet to decorate a fridge or use on a white board, and these had been meticulously placed into small red/gold envelopes by our volunteers (some 4,000 of these were prepared).

Since this was a special day, for the first time I (silently) con-celebrated at the Cantonese Mass, with Father Joseph Tan Leitao, S.V.D. presiding, and my wing man, Father Li on the side (recuperating from a bad accident where he dropped a heavy vase with one of the kumquat plants on his ankle).

New Year Day 1a

In the sacristy while preparing for the 2nd Mass, Father Joseph and I were chatting when a couple came in (both are volunteers in the parish and well-known to all the priests) with their daughter for her first New Year celebration. She was also at our parish party in January but now more formally dressed. (Parish party photo on left, and New Year on right).

lny-family-dinner-71 New Year Day1

At the end of each Mass, the priests, assisted by the altar servers, stood at the front of the sanctuary (and later on the steps of the church) distributing the New Year Lei Cee gifts and blessing the people.

new Year Day 3 new year Day 4' New Year distributing Lei Cee

But the surprise came later for me, when for the next 15 days, both after Mass, before Mass, around the parish, at banquets and dinners and even just on the street, people would come up and wish me “Kung Hai Fat Choi” and hand me a red (or gold) envelope.

Lei Cee envelopes

This is a highly regarded custom, and people walk around for the entire period with prepared envelopes (with various denominations of Hong Kong dollars in them) to hand out at any point. We priests learned to walk around with pockets filled with our parish gift so we could “exchange” them — my problem was never seeming to have enough pockets for the Lei Cee envelopes I was given.

This exchange of Lei Cee went on and on for the entire 15 days.

Because of this and the many family customs around the New Year, just as happens in Irish enclaves where the local bishops dispense from fast and abstinence for St. Patrick’s day,  or for the Italians on St. Joseph’s day, for Chinese New Year we are dispensed… so much so that Ash Wednesday was very understated. Yes we did distribute ashes in the early morning, but no other Masses were held as the holiday was in full swing.

Another custom is giving gifts of flowers as mentioned above and so each priest was given an elaborate dish filled with water lily bulbs that – over the 15 days – grew, and bloomed filling our offices with an intoxicating sweet (and pleasant) aroma. Of course, our cook, Fong Xe watched the plants carefully too for future “steamed water lily bulb” meals….

Water lilies a Water lilies

A MOST Historic and Ecclesial Event

As many of you know, I spent 7 years working and ministering to a Catholic community in Khabarovsk, in the Diocese of St. Joseph in Irkutsk in the Russian Federation.  In that period, one of the most difficult challenges had been our relations as Catholics to the Russian Orthodox Church. After a lot of difficulties, however, I was able to build up what I considered excellent relations with the Orthodox Archbishop Mark of Khabarovsk and many members of his clergy and faithful.

So on February 12th, when Pope Francis, traveling to Mexico, stopped in Havana Cuba for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kyrill, I was personally thrilled seeing the beginning of an end to the thousand year’s of schism.

Historic meeting 1 Historic Meeting 2 Historic Meeting 3 Historic Meeting 4

The historic implications of this first face-to-face meeting of the heads of these two important ecclesial communities cannot be overestimated. The fact that they met, embraced, and exchanged a mutual statement and blessing goes a long way in opening a new chapter in ecumenism.

A special New Year’s festival

On the first weekend of the new Year’s festival (14 February), our pastor and parish council sponsored a great FAMILY DAY complete with special foods, games, and a big stage setting for family and group New Year’s photos, as well as — the greatest part — a professional troupe of Lion Dancers. This troupe is a mix of very young boys and girls and older taller teenagers (who are the hind legs of the lions as well as the musicians and leaders [the lion head is usually a short guy with very strong arms as he holds up and manipulates the lion head through very intricate dance steps).

The stage of the parish center was decorated in a special way for people to get a New Year photo, and many people took advantage of this. Here you see Father Joseph Tan organizing his Mandarin Choir, and then the big Cantonese Choir came on stage and called me up for a group photo together with Father Tan and Sister Bernadette Woo.

Stage set for New year photo Setting up New Year photo Sitting with parishioenrs for formal portraint

The Lion Dancers set up two stations, one at the top steps of the church where the two lions would greet the faithful as they came out from Mass and then accompanied by cymbals, drums and gongs, danced into the hall followed by all the parishioners where they put on a masterful show twice. I managed to get a photo before I vested for my Mass with the Master of the dance troupe.

Lion dancers at church steps Lion dancers greet people leaving church With head of lion dancers Lion Dancer troupe Lion dancers future Lion dancers greet people leaving church Lion Dancers in hall Lion Dancers preparing

Our parish youth, taking advantage of so many people present for Mass (and carrying the envelopes with Lei Cee) set up a small booth to raise money for their trip to World Youth Day in Poland later this summer.

Parish youth

It definitely was a memorable celebration. Many people stood on line for the formal portrait pictures, others enjoyed flavorful New Year snacks and treats, the kids (and adults0 had the noise and joy of the Lion Dances, and the property was covered with confetti and hundreds of people milling about wishing “Long Life, Good Health, and Happiness.”

St. Valentine’s Day

Although not as widely celebrated and commercialized as in the West, the First Sunday of Lent coincided with Valentine’s Day and as I was seeking a time and place to have my pre-marital seminar with couples at whose weddings I would preside, the majority of them were able to make a special luncheon at a nearby restaurant after our Sunday Mass and the Lion festival.

This gave me a time to meet these young women and men who have been preparing for months (years?) for their marriage. Two of them are in my catechumen class, others I will baptize at Easter (those to be baptized live one in Shanghai and the other in Toronto so they were not able to make it). I had already spent hours with each couple individually with all the paperwork that goes into a Hong Kong wedding (both civil and church).

So this was a great way to treat a lot of topics with all of them together and the brides especially came well-prepared, with their folders of plans and preparations. The guys were — the guys. They sat back, spoke of their jobs, sports and anything BUT the wedding. I had to laugh at this dynamic. The guys were thrilled with the food, the ladies hardly touched theirs. I also was quietly pleased at how both the men and women pitched in with the initial rituals of any shared meal — first rinsing out all of our cups, bowls and spoons in tea, which is then poured into a glass bowl, and the “rinsing tea” discarded, and then pouring out new fresh steeped tea into our cups after the rinsing ritual.The first few times I observed this at shared meals and banquets, I thought people were unhappy with the quality of the tea or something, but then was told that it has different meanings but the more mundane one is rinsing the bowl, spoon and cup with hot fresh tea should guarantee that any residue soap from the kitchen washers is definitely “washed away.”

This luncheon was a very nice and relaxing way to spend a day with these young people. The first couple in the group to marry will be this Thursday, March 17th, and then two couples on April 2nd, one couple on April 9th (which I will not be able to attend as I will be in NYC presiding at another wedding), and then a couple will wed as soon as I return on April 22nd (and the last couple are off in November but came along for the free food and ideas).

Couples I will marry this year

Weddings in our church are almost a cottage industry. The Hong Kong government decides which churches are eligible to host weddings (not all parishes can do this) and ours is the #1 or #2 choice by far, with a few hundred weddings each year. Perhaps it is our majestic entry decked out this way for each couple?

Wedding Bell ready

 

Resuming RCIA classes

My classes for catechumens had to be suspended for two weeks because of the new Year festivities, but finally in mid-February we got back on track with classes. I had a new curriculum, and our classes picked up a few new people. It is becoming apparent that I have one of the few all-English adult classes for catechumens and we continually get requests to take in new students, but my time is the issue. We have at least planned for anew group to start in early September. The current group has 4 being baptized this Easter; 5 entering into full communion with the catholic Church at Pentecost this year; 8 who will be baptized at Easter 2017; and 5 Catholics following the course as they had been “away” from the Church for a while.

my RCIA curriculum

The speech circuit

At the end of January, one of my parishioners approached me to ask if I would consider giving an address to a group of professional Catholic women. She had organized this group some 16 years ago when she was one of the leading civil servants of the former government, and had many contacts through the catholic schools network (she and many others in the group were alumnae of the Maryknoll Sisters schools which were considered the best here in Hong Kong).

When the invitation was extended, I was told the group was quite small and maybe a dozen would be at the luncheon where I would give an address. I accepted – more out of curiosity than anything else), and the date was arranged for Saturday the 20th of February, with the topic to be on “Mercy.”

On the day, I made my way after my Mass with the school children to Central and to the Landmark Building (the new one…) and was met by my hostess, Mrs. Rose Goodstadt, a local Hong Kong lady married to an Irishman, Leo, with whom I had had a lunch a few weeks previously at the historic and famous “Hong Kong Club.”

We took a circuitous route up the towers of the Landmark, changing elevators for security checks and walking up the last two flights of mahogany stairs to a spectacular “penthouse suite” overlooking the harbor. It was a sunny and warm day, which made it extra special.

To my surprise there were 26 women, not the original 12, and they told me word had spread on “who” was speaking (and it seems I have a reputation here on the island for my homilies??). To my happy surprise, one of my catechumens was in the group. The women were all professionals, mostly in banking (HSBC or UBS) law (barristers or solicitors) one or two in education and a few highly-placed civil servants, and one professor of medicine at the leading medical hospital in Hong Kong. What is striking is their evangelical fervor to live their faith in a complex world in Hong Kong, and to encourage many other women to maintain their faith despite so many obstacles. There are two or three in the group who are especially zealous in this outreach.

The luncheon was great, the conversation flowed, and I managed to get through my talk without incident. It was a nice afternoon, and since then I have been happy to run into these women all over Hong Kong (and at my Masses on Sundays). There are photos of the whole group taken by others, but this is one of the “lawyers’ in the group.

With some catholic Women's group members

The Lantern Festival

Finally the last day of the 15-day celebrations came with the Lantern Festival and with it, my last banquet. I was already suffering Lunar Banquet tummy and was dreading any more exotic foods.

The Lantern Festival is a Chinese form of Valentine’s Day and this year we were all guests of the Senior Citizen’s group of parishioners (this was after we had survived the banquet and Mah Jong luncheon/dinner of the Cantonese Opera Society group in our parish).

Having survived (barely) about 10 of these banquets, I decided to record each and every course of this last one… and was lucky to have a medical doctor at my right side for the meal (my “wing man” was separated from me and so the doctor sat next to me as he spoke English).

He is a pediatric physician and well-known among parishioners and a delightful dinner companion as he had no problem actually telling me what it was I was eating…. (see above).

Her are all the courses (hopefully in some order):: Two kinds of roasted pork cut into cubes for easy serving and eating with the chop sticks, and served with mustard and chili sauce and the ubiquitous pots of tea (Jasmine and another more earthy darker variety); stewed or steamed vegetables, a whole fish, a somewhat still bloody chopped up chicken, me holding the worst… the special New Year dish of Bok Choy, the ‘secret mystery ingredient” slimy mushrooms, carrots, a smoked reconstituted dried oyster, and some other slimy green thing on top, Sticky rice, long-life noodles, a New Year steamed cake, and steamed almond-milk and tapioca pudding.

Last Banquet1 Last Banquet3 Last banquet 2 Last Banquet5 Last Banquet6 Last Banquet4 Last Banquet7 Last Banquet8 Last Banquet10 Last Banket9

Now with the food and banquets over I finally knew what I had ingested for the past 15 days… and the mystery item mentioned way up in the beginning was…… fish bladder, which now is placed together in the stellar list of things “Father does NOT eat,” including fish heads, abalone (dreadful), smoked and reconstituted oysters, under-cooked parts of poultry (chicken and duck feet take 1st place), and many members of the plant and animal kingdoms that I had no idea could be cooked and eaten.

I survived as the photo below demonstrates (with all the empty bowls in front of me and my face looking somewhat drawn), followed by my first treatment of some foul-smelling medicine that cures stomach issues (the smell could kill anything in 20 or 30 meters). Whatever is in these “Trumpet” pills (as they are called because of the trumpet on the side) they work.

Surviving Last Banquet Trumpet medicine

Some Guests in Town

The parents of Msgr. K Bart Smith, pastor at the parish in Silver Spring, MD where I lived during my Catholic University years, came to Hong Kong for 2 days during a round-the-world cruise. Although finding the dock where their ship pulled in (the old airport) and whisking them back to Hong Kong island took time, it was enjoyable to have them here for two days, taking them on all the must-see sights of the Star Ferry, the peak (where the sun was out for the first time ever for me), Soho, the Mid-Levels moving stairway, many rides on the tram going east and west, walks through downtown, seeing the light show from Kowloon, walking the promenade and on the last day visiting some of the famous buildings they had seen from across the harbor. here are a few snapshots. Interestingly, what is called “Status Square” in the city center, and where statues of the former British monarchs stood, has only one statue left… that of the founder of HSBC which headquarters face the square now.

The peak 1 The Peak 3 Victoria Harbor lights HSBC founder in Statue Square HSBC from Statue Square HSBC headquarters inside

This last photo is the amazing interior of the HSBC building, the exterior of which is above right.

Finding time

Just to give you a peek into my schedule, here are photos of my calendar for February and March.

Calendar February calendar March

This office calendar is matched by two portable ones and there are days when I wonder how I will get through the day and make all the appointments, but I am learning more and more to balance my two principle jobs (parochial vicar at St. Margaret’s and Judge in the diocesan tribunal) and keeping just ahead of all the deadlines.

I sometimes feel as if I am still back at CUA — I had rejoiced at graduation thinking all the deadlines of term papers and exams were behind me, only to find deadlines in writing sentences, deadlines in writing articles, preparing classes, preparing people for sacraments, interviewing people for nullity cases, and getting back and forth between my two offices (one at the parish and the other at the chancery in Mid Levels on Caine Road).

Here is the judge at work in his parish office (note the gavel near the cross…)

The priest judge in his office

LENT come and nearly gone….

The celebration today of the 5th Sunday of Lent brought home how busy (and happy) I have been for these past 5 or 6 weeks. I am more comfortable with my works and ministries, but still wish I had the time to study some Cantonese, but that will come.

I manage to keep up with the heavy and cluttered series of meetings, dinners, conferences, Masses, and office appointments that fill my days and nights. Inasmuch as this is a busy metropolis, we work until all hours of the night as that is when most people can see us.

I was approached to start yet another RCIA – this time for high school-aged people and I have two already and will expand this after Easter. in May we have our CCD children making First Communion and others receiving Confirmation (here the priests are the ministers of Confirmation both for the Easter Vigil and for “special groups,” which is what my English groups appears to be).

I cannot believe that 5 months have gone by since I arrived here. I feel “at home” and content with the challenges the ministry brings.

Just this past week my mentor, former superior (1991-2000) in the Vatican, and good friend who taught me so much about my vocation as a missionary, marked his 92nd birthday. I watched my clock and knew the time difference and when I knew it was about 11:45 a.m. in Rome, knowing as well as I do the Cardinal Jozef Tomko’s daily schedule, I called his apartment. The sister who is his housekeeper recognized my voice immediately and called the cardinal who was just returning from a morning Lenten conference with Pope Francis.

For 15 minutes we chatted as friends – sharing memories of trips in the past, people we knew, and him questioning me of my work and me asking about his. It is humbling when this great man, a close confident to both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, praised me for returning to the missions — as I reminded him that I served him when he was my current age, and we traveled the world visiting missions. He was one of the inspirations for my return now.

So to Cardinal Jozef Tomko, friend, mentor, confident and brother, I close my BLOG now wishing him again HAPPY BIRTHDAY for his 92 years, and God’s blessings on him.

Card Tomko 1

Pope Francis rides in a bus with cardinals and bishops at the and of their weeklong Lenten retreat in Ariccia, Italy, March 14. At the end of the retreat, Pope Francis said he and his closest collaborators at the Vatican "want to follow Jesus more closely, without losing hope in his promises and without losing a sense of humor." (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 14, 2014) See POPE-RETREAT March 14, 2014.

Pope Francis rides in a bus with cardinals and bishops at the and of their weeklong Lenten retreat in Ariccia, Italy, March 14. At the end of the retreat, Pope Francis said he and his closest collaborators at the Vatican “want to follow Jesus more closely, without losing hope in his promises and without losing a sense of humor.” (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters) (March 14, 2014) See POPE-RETREAT March 14, 2014.

Card Tomko w Vlad 2011 This last photo is of 2011 when I baptized my godson, Dr. Evgeny Gulevskiy’s son, Vladislav in Rome. The Cardinal graciously invited Zhenya and his wife Alena and Vlad to his apartment for tea and to bless Vlad (who is now 5 and growing).

So… I am now somewhat caught up with the BLOG and apologize for the silence, but hope the explanation of what has been unfolding here in “Fragrant Harbor” will help understand.

I leave with this photo of our church at night. Throughout Lent we are spending many many hours at night in confession for this Year of Mercy, and people come every Friday for hours to stand on line for confession. It is humbling to – in the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel – say to someone, “neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more.”

The light is on

Of course, in my homily as I spoke of the woman caught in “adultery” a 9-year old in the front row who is rather inquisitive asked… a BIT too loud, “Mommy, what’s adultery?” which broke up everyone listening to me wondering, “Ok Father… what do you say?” I said — “Good question, Xavier,” (his name), laughing and made a side comment about — “I leave the answer to the parents… Good Luck with that!”

But I had also used the song “By My Side” from Godspell as a point for meditation, and hopefully the lyrics and haunting melody can inspire them all to think of my them, “let the past be in the past, and let the future be the future.” And as the woman’s past was now forgiven, she looked forward to “skipping the road” with Christ as a disciple… which is the call we all have, whether the road is smooth, or more often a bit uncomfortable (“putting a pebble in my shoe”). But knowing with Christ “by my side,” all things are possible.

 

 

 

A Busy, Fascinating, and Active New Year

The New Year began more officially after The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, but for us, the rhythm of pastoral life began right after the Epiphany.

That first week resuming our regular parish and diocesan tribunal schedule also witnessed a lot of meetings and appointments making their way onto my desk calendar, desk diary and into my pocket diary.

The first off was meeting yet another young couple for the “Pre-Nuptial Investigation,” [PNI to priests], the lengthy document gathering and registration for a marriage.

Here in St. Margaret’s Church couples begin at least a year or more out from the date to get a time set in the church. With some 300 or more weddings scheduled each year (as mentioned above), it is very difficult for some to get placed on our church calendar, and many opt for weekdays rather than the busy weekends.

One such couple are Pierre Olivier and Enrica, whose wedding was scheduled for 17 March 2016. I was not sure what I was expecting when I called them to come in for their PNI (some Irish background maybe?). I met this couple and we had a little over an hour going through all of the paperwork (and documents they still would have to produce), and then carefully completing the lengthy questionnaire forms sent out by our diocese. As serious as this process is, it can get tedious and so I generally try to ease the discomfort of the very personal questions each is asked with some levity, but also taking time to make sure I answer any and all questions they might have. For many, this is the first time they ever have a serious chat with a priest.

Enrica and Oli were very good, and – as I have done with some of the other couples who I am preparing for marriage – loaded down with booklets, pamphlets and other marriage materials, I added their name to the list of 7 (and growing) couples at whose weddings I will preside here in Hong Kong this year. [Thanks to the generosity of many over Christmas, I have sufficient pre-marital materials for each couple.]

A BIG DIOCESAN CELEBRATION

On the actual date of the Epiphany, all of the priests of the diocese made their way to our diocesan seminary, Holy Spirit Seminary in Aberdeen, on the southeast side of the island.

This year the Epiphany marked both the 50th Anniversary of Priestly Ordination of our bishop, as well as his 20th Anniversary of Episcopal Ordination (together with his predecessor as Ordinary, Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB, who was ordained bishop together with Cardinal John Tong on 6 January 1996.

This was my first visit to Holy Spirit Seminary and my ever-present guide was Father Francis LI Yu-ming, the elder priest of our rectory, who studied in this seminary back in the 1950’s.

Since we are in the “Holy Year of Mercy,” Fr. Francis and I began our visit by going through the doors of the chapel that have been designated one of the 5 places for the “Holy Doors” for this year.

Cardinal Tong's celebration 1

We visited the chapel, which is very much in a Chinese style with beautiful touches in mosaics and some interesting instruments (including hanging chimes).

Cardinal Ton'g celebration 3 Cardinal Tong's celebration 4

We strolled around the campus of this beautiful building with the dramatic hills of Aberdeen to the north. The 3rd photo below of the arched entryway is called “Canton Gate” because it was the big place where the South Chinese seminarians gathered each day to speak Cantonese — I jokingly asked where the Beijing Gate was for the northerners… and he pointed to the vast playing fields!

 

Cardinal Tong's celebration 5 Cardinal Tong's celebration 7 Cardinal Tong's celebration 6 Cardinal Tong's celebration 8

The touring ended with a great lunch in honor of our beloved pastor, Cardinal John Tong, who gave a wonderful thanksgiving speech in both Cantonese and English before saying grace and sitting down with the priests for the luncheon, making a point to also greet each table.

Cardinal John Tong Cardinal Tong's celebration 9

RCIA CONTINUES

With the new year starting, it also meant that our RCIA program would now start a new curriculum of classes.

Teaching this group (now of 23 adults) is something that I look forward to each week. There is the extra work of preparing and following a curriculum, preparing classes, books and keeping organized the names and background of each person in the class; some are unbaptized, some or baptized non-Catholics; some are lapsed Catholics; and some are Catholics seeking a deeper understanding of their faith.

Aside from having proper teaching materials in English (that were not available here, but again, thanks to the generosity of so many over Christmas, no longer an issue), I also had to find a decent, durable English translation of the Bible so that we could begin the study of the Old Testament. Over the Christmas holidays a shipment I ordered of “The New American Bible,” arrived and they are very good indeed. These were procured and shipped again through the generosity of friends. They are not a free gift, however. Each catechumen pays a “subsidized” price for their Bible, something they were all proud to do.

New Bibles

The rest of that first week was filled out with trips to my other office in the chancery to pick up or hand in judgments in nullity cases. With the changes promulgated by Pope Francis last year in his document Mitis Iudex, that went into effect on 8 December 2015, our work has changed a bit in the tribunal.

All of our cases are adjudicated by a single judge (as in the past here), but since now the former policy of appealing each sentence in the 1st Instance in a court of the 2nd Instance has been – so a large extent – suppressed, a new safeguard was put in place here to assure judicial fairness.

Now for each case we have the judge ponens – the one who writes the sentence. There continues to be a Defender of the Bond for each case, and now an Assessor for each case. Given the complexity of all marriage cases presented to our tribunal, each of these roles (ponens, defender of the bond, and assessor) are filled by canon lawyers. But here is the rub — we are only 5 active canon lawyers in the diocese, and for each case, 3 of us are working on different parts, increasing one’s work load quite a bit.

The judge or ponens can be assisted by an Auditor, but for the cases I have in English, only I can handle the Instruction phase as there are no qualified personnel to help me (and I am seriously looking for someone, anyone to do some of this), so I have to do all the background work on the case, conduct the interviews of witnesses and the petitioner (and respondent), and then write up all of this before writing my final judgment.

Over the Christmas holidays I was able to acquire a state-of-the-art dictaphone/tape Phillips recorder for the hearings and also the Dragon computer program for legal work, that is voice-sensitive and can write whatever I dictate into the recorder (the accuracy is well over 90% so far). This gadget and program will help my work a great deal.

The BAPTISM OF THE LORD, and MEETING THE PARISHIONERS

On 10 January we had the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, and marked that day with another baptism of one of our CCD children preparing for First Communion next year.

This young boy stands out in class for his huge smile and inquisitiveness. At the meeting I have with parents and godparents, he took it over asking the most questions.

It helped to mark the fast day with a Baptism that reminded everyone in the community of the meaning of our baptism and of our faith.

Aiden Bapt 1 Aiden Bapt 5 Aiden Bapt 2 Aiden Bapt 3 Aidem Bapt 4

 

MEET THE MANDARINS!!!

As I have mentioned in other parts, although Hong Kong is now officially part of China, it has maintained the custom of using Cantonese as its official daily language (in speaking – and in writing, with a preference for the traditional style over the simplified style of writing characters). Nonetheless, the official language of the Mainland, Mandarin is making strong inroads into this territory.

A by-product of this has been the increase of Mainland (Mandarin-speaking) Chinese coming to Hong Kong to live and work, and a growing number of them either are already Catholics, or curious about the Catholic Church.

Two of the priests in my rectory are Mandarin-speaking by birth, and the younger one, Father Joseph TAN Leitao, S.V.D., has been a dynamic and zealous apostle among his people, organizing some three years ago a small community in our parish that has now grown exponentially and is one of the most energetic groups here.

To mark the 3rd anniversary of their establishment as a parochial unit in our parish, they hosted a big Gala Evening earlier in January at a private club in an office complex downtown. We all were packed up into a van and driven to the event which was a great evening of fun, laughter, sharing, and exotic food.

Father Joseph often sits near or next to me at such gatherings and knows how slightly uncomfortable I get sitting quietly for 3 hours or so as everyone else around me speaks Cantonese or Mandarin, so for this event, he co-opted a Yale University grad student who had just flown in from the States to continue his linguistic-anthropological work — and he acted as my interpreter for the evening, making it much easier.

I have grown used to some of the exotic foods that are often on display at such dinners; I am also learning the art of — when seeing something swing by me on the rotating serving table…. — learning to swing it just as swiftly to the right or left as a way of avoiding eating what I really do not like. The only down-side is that at such gala dinners it is the person to your immediate right or left who serves YOU and so you have to be careful that you have someone “simpatico” in that role, knowing that when you demurely but emphatically (and hopefully discreetly) shake your head NO I DO NOT WANT THAT — they get the hint and do not put it onto your plate or bowl.

After an opening toast and some introductions, the meal began with platter after platter brought out and placed on the revolving center serving table. My translator for Yale, still under jet-lag, started seeing the first few platters (all fish) and I broke out laughing when he said, “It looks like the Italian 7 Fishes Christmas dinner!” And it did.

It took us quite a few courses to finally get away from seafood and on to vegetables and meat platters. The variety of dishes was overwhelming, the tastes, unique for the most part, but for me, by the 8th or 9th course I was exhausted (and luckily, given the number at our table, everything was that — a taste).

Here are some photos from the Mandarin Community dinner:

Mandarin Celebration 1 Mandarin Celebration 2 Mandarin Celebration 3 Mandarin Celebration 4 Mandarin Celebration 5

MAKING WAY FOR THE LUNAR (CHINESE) NEW YEAR

Here I thought we had some breathing room to recover from all the work of Christmas, and suddenly I came home one day and found 20 miniature Mandarin orange tree plants wrapped up in our hallway and sitting room. I knew… Lunar New Year is coming as these are one of the many symbols used to decorate homes for this great celebration.

LNY orange trees

Unfortunately for us and for most of Hong Kong, this past weekend of 23-24 January marked the coldest temperatures ever recorded for this island — below 0°C (about 25 F at one point on Sunday).

Already we had temperatures dropping to the low 50’sF and even dipping into the 40’sF at night, but soon people were swarming shops trying to find winter clothes, something I never thought of packing for South China.

Between the freezing rains, and Arctic winds coming south from my former residence in the Russian Far East, I finally could not survive any longer with simply a sweater-vest and a small fleece coat. So, after consulting others on where one would possibly find US American sizes in this land of smaller people… I headed out on a cold rainy Saturday to Wan Chai (the district immediately west of us) and to the knock-off “sample” shops dotting the roads and finally found some clothes that not only fit, but were warm.

Winter comes

It took a few more days to find a street vendor with scarves and hats, but now I am ready. Fortunately I had these clothes the next day when I again had guests visiting (from Europe) who had NO WINTER CLOTHING. They managed by wearing just about everything they had packed… but with temperatures on Sunday dipping below zero, and with ice forming on the Peak — it was a struggle doing much of anything, but I did manage to walk with them some 12+ km. across downtown, and over the Kowloon.

I also went over to visit a Maryknoller who is pastor on Cheung Chao Island and the 45-minute trip by ferry this time was an exercise in sub-zero travel over water (making it much colder). The temperatures here in Hong Kong are more piercingly cold because of the constant humidity from the surrounding sea. This is a cold that is relentless.

The past weekend was so bitterly cold it was and remains the BIG topic of conversation these days – and they say this cold Arctic air will continue into the Lunar New Year.

Right now we are in our second week of nearly constant rains and today especially things were so bad I had to cancel my RCIA classes (it is not a night to be out in torrential freezing rains…. and… “Father has a head cold from not wearing a hat for the last few days!”

PREQUEL TO THE LUNAR NEW YEAR

Last Saturday evening, 23 January, our parish opened the new Lunar New Year’s festivities with the family feast, the reunion dinner (年夜飯) which we celebrate a bit early so that we do not run into conflicts with the other family reunion dinners.

Taking a cue from my trusty Wikipedia explanations of all things Chinese, we sat down to a very large that traditionally includes dumplings, chicken and pork. Fish (魚, yú) is also included, but intentionally not finished, and the remaining fish is stored overnight. The reason for this stems from a pun, as the Chinese phrase 年年有魚/餘; (nián nián yǒu yú, or “every year there is fish/leftover”) is a homophone for phrases which mean “be blessed every year” or “have profit every year”. Similarly, a type of black hair-like algae, “fat choy” (髮菜, fǎ cài, literally “hair vegetable” in Chinese), is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to “prosperity”(發財, fā cái).

Here each family ordered a table in the parish hall (we had a few hundred in attendance), and they can sit from 10-14 around a table, and the cover charge was for a portable gas burner, the POT filled with all kinds of foods boiling and steaming away under tight aluminum foil, and bottles of unsweetened tea. Those who wanted had a BYOB.

For our pot (once the lid was taken off and the steam rose from each of the tables, Father Francis LI (who sat by my side as my “wing man” through this new experience), explained what was in it: pork fat, pork belly, chicken, duck, shrimp, steamed shrimp balls, abalone, various forms of fungus and mushrooms, all types of pieces of fish, processed soy bean-curd strips, bean sprouts, lettuce, crab, lotus, spinach, water lily pods, lechi (sp) nuts, and then they poured in more water, turned up the boiling and added noodles and dumplings (and rice was served on the side… as if anyone wanted any).

LNY Family Dinner 3 LNY Family dinner 5

Our pastor, Fr. John Kwan opened the dinner singing with the youth ban a song for spring (the theme of the Lunar New Year) and everyone joined in on the chorus.

LNY Family dinner 2

Then the heads of each family table pulled off the steaming aluminum paper, and as the steam rose and the pot bubbled, they began mixing the various layers of ingredients using the serving chop sticks (you eat with your own chop-sticks but never touch the food with those, always mixing and serving with chopsticks set aside for that purpose).

Here is one of the specialties found in the pot, steamed lotus flower served with fatty pork and red peppers.

LNY Family dinner 6

And here are a family beginning the meal by mixing the ingredients that have been boiled and steamed.

LNY Family dinner 4

This year the Lunar New Year begins on 8 February, and it will be the YEAR OF THE MONKEY, and in the Taichu calendar it is year 2130.

The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the Reunion Dinner, named as “Nian Ye Fan” mentioned above.  This meal is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. and remotely similar to Christmas dinner in other countries with a high percentage of Christians. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings (jiaozi) after dinner to eat around midnight. Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape resembles a Chinese sycee (a gold or silver ingot used as ancient Chinese currency). By contrast, in the South, it is customary to make a glutinous new year cake (niangao) and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niángāo literally means “new year cake” with a homophonous meaning of “increasingly prosperous year in year out”. After dinner, some families go to local temples hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; however in modern practice, many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new year. Traditionally, firecrackers were once lit to scare away evil spirits with the household doors sealed, not to be reopened until the new morning in a ritual called “opening the door of fortune” (traditional Chinese: 開財門). 

If I can remember all these pointers, I will be lucky, but my calendar is now filling up with banquets, dinners and festivities stretching throughout the month of February.

It is a family occasion, and so many families had brought children experiencing their first New Year, and here Sister Bernadette Woo entertains a new member of our parish, while father Li (the hand) tries to get her to smile.

LNY Family dinner 7

As I close these BLOGs having now caught up to today, 28 January, I wish you all a prosperous YEAR OF THE MONKEY, from our house to your house! {left photo, Fathers Kwan and Tan and our building supervisor, Ah Ming; right photo, Deacon Bernard Tang, Father Kwan, Father Tan, seminarian Francis Wong, Sister Bernadette, Father Li, and me — Fr. Edward Chau was roaming around the other tables, but he was very present too}.

LNY Family dinner 8 LNY Family dinner 1

Christmas season continued – New Year’s and onward

Following the joy-filled and memorable activities of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Feast of the Holy Family, and rested (sort-of) from my 3 days of touring around Hong Kong, we began preparing for the New Year.

Already in early December, I had the privilege of meeting a couple of ex-pats (the short name for all of us working here from overseas), a nice couple with the bride from Ireland and the groom from Australia. Their wedding was planned for New Year’s Eve, and thanks to the many weddings at which I presided in the US in recent years, I had a pen-drive filled with templates of wedding program booklets which this couple desperately needed.

After meeting with the couple once, and later a few times with the groom, I managed to help them create their wedding booklet in time to get it to the printers before their big day, as well as to organize instruments (an electronic keyboard from our choir) for the use of an ensemble they had hired for the wedding ceremony.

Our parish of St. Margaret’s in Happy Valley is considered one of the premier places to have a wedding. Not all parish churches in the diocese are designated by the government for weddings (something the government controls), and so we have weddings here not just for people from the parish, but from all over the island — and beyond.

The setting of our church is one of the principle draws that couples have for requesting a date here (the church, the stairs up to the church, the location, and the “wedding bell” all help). We average some 300 weddings per year in a normal year; for an “auspicious year” (dependent on the number such as this year have a “6” for 2016), the number of requests increases.

I already have a number of weddings on my schedule as we go into 2016 and so I used the opportunity of the Tovell-Wilson wedding on 31 December to take a close look on “how” we do weddings here.

Generally there are few variants from what we consider a western wedding, until we have the signing of the registry, here done generally with a parent on each side instead of the “witnesses” of Best Man and Maid (Matron) of Honor. They still are in the ceremony, but the official government registry is signed by parents, if possible.

Unlike many of the weddings I have already seen here, this one had a very limited wedding party — all children. 5 Flower Girls and 1 Page Boy (ring bearer), together with the brother of the bride and brother of the groom as the “family witness”.

They were blessed with a balmy day to close out the year, and their friends (some 140 people in all) seemed to be raring to go with a huge wedding party after the church service.

Wedding Bell ready Wedding Everone one the steps Wedding Flower Girls ready Wedding Here come the Bride Wedding signing the book

 

A RAUCOUS NEW YEAR’S EVE

Still a bit tired from the tour-guiding last days of December, I stayed up trying to usher in the New Year here in Hong Kong, but preferred to stay in rather than be out on the streets. Given the sights and sounds of midnight when the fireworks went off in the harbor, I may have been the only one ‘at home.”

Aside from the noise of these 20-minute long fireworks (so loud in my apartment which is two mountains and about 2.5 km away), the bright sky told volumes of what so many were witnessing first hand both in various vantage points around Victoria Harbor as well as from home.

NYE Fireworks Hong Kong 3 NYE Fireworks Hong Kong 2 NYE Fireworks Hong Kong 1

 

Mary Mother of God

AppleMark

The parish community gathered again on the morning of January 1st for our celebration of Mass for this start of the new year. Since we had planned to have the Blessing of the Homes done the following Sunday, most of the priests used part of the time of their homily to explain the custom and what we would be doing in the parish.

 

Epiphany – God’s Self-revelation to the Nations!

The Epiphany this year was celebrated on Sunday, 3rd January 2016, and was marked by another overflowing turnout in the church for our Mass. We had announced the beginning of the new custom (for Hong Kong) of Blessing of the Home, and so many families turned out at all the Masses to receive the instructions and the packets made earlier (some 3,000) for the Blessing of Homes that were mentioned a few blogs back.

Epiphany Blessing display 2 Epiphany Blessing display

We thought the 3,000 packets would be enough, but having the last Mass of the morning, we ran out of them (completely ran out) before most of the families had a chance to come up and get one. I had to offer a second distribution of packets the following week, and we still ran out. Now we will be more organized for the coming year.

The Feast of the Epiphany has always been important for me as it represents the heart and soul of our missionary work ad Gentes (to the nations) represented by the three kings coming from the East to pay homage to newborn Son of God. I have had a fascination with this image of the kings worshiping before the Lord, and as I did it previous years, I posted on my Facebook page some photos of other cultural depictions of this event.

Epiphany 6 Epiphany 1

The Epiphany is depicted in a mural titled "Adoration of the Magi" in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo. Painted by Benedictine monks in the late 1800s, the artwork is the first appearance of the German Beuronese style in a U.S. church. Christians celebrate the incarnation of the divine word -- the birth of Christ -- Dec. 25. The feast of the Epiphany is Jan. 2. (CNS photo courtesy Conception Abbey) (Nov. 8, 2004)

Epiphany 3 Epiphany 10 Epiphany 9 Epiphany 4 Epiphany 5

Homily for Solemnity of Epiphany of the Lord
St. Margaret’s Church, Happy Valley

Is 60: 1-6
Ephesians 3: 2-3a, 5-6
Matt. 2: 1-12

Introduction:

Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “The Magi – the Three Wise Men – set out because of a deep desire that prompted them to leave everything and begin a journey. It was as though they had always been waiting for that star.”
Our own response to the gift that God has given us for salvation through his Son, Jesus, is the same as the gifts of these three men. “To offer gold is to proclaim Christ’s kingship; to offer incense is to adore the Godhead; and to offer myrrh is to acknowledge his mortality,” as another writer, St. Odilo of Cluny wrote centuries ago.
We gather today to follow in the footsteps of the Magi on this journey, following the Star of Bethlehem. Let us pray that our gifts will deepen our own understanding of God’s Epiphany, his MANIFESTATION.

Homily:
Each year, the readings for this particular feast of the Epiphany has the same Gospel passage that we just read, as it is the only place where we find any mention of this wonderful, enchanting story of the three Kings who tradition has called Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar.
Over 125 years ago, a prolific writer and clergyman in the United States wrote a wonderful short story about the Magi with a twist: it was entitled “The Other Wise Man”. The author, Henry Van Dyke is also known to us through the lyrics of a hymn he wrote to the melody written by Beethoven to “Joyful, Joyful we adore Thee.”
Today, I want to re-tell Van Dyke’s story as a tale that also explains the true manifestation of Christ for us – the meaning of EPIPHANY.
The story – as created by Van Dyke – is of a fourth wise man, by the name of Artaban, who knew Casper, Melchior and Balthasar, and had agreed to join them on the journey to follow the Star of Bethlehem.
Artaban prepared for this special journey with high hopes and expectations. At great personal expense, and knowing the gifts the other three would be bringing, he gathered a bag of precious jewels to offer as his gift of homage to the newborn king. He then set out to the place where he would rendezvous with the others before they headed across mountains and desert to Bethlehem.
He was already running a bit behind schedule, and barely had enough time to meet them at the appointed place, when suddenly he comes across a sick traveler lying unattended on the side of the road. Artaban knew that stopping would jeopardize all hope of catching up with his friends before they set out, but passing by without stopping was unthinkable, unforgivable.
So he does something many of us might not do… he stops, knowing full well that in doing so he has possibly missed this chance of a lifetime to see the newborn king. Like the Good Samaritan, he nurses the man back to health, financing his care with a brilliant topaz he carries.  Once the stranger is getting better, Artaban continues on his journey. But when he arrives at the place where they planned to meet, he is told that the other Three had already left and there would be no hope of overtaking them. So, he is now forced to sell one of his precious stones, a sapphire, to hire a set of guides and equipment to get him across the mountains and desert.
When he finally arrives at Bethlehem, his friends have already left for home by another route, and he is told that Joseph and Mary have fled with the child to Egypt because Herod had earnestly begun a search for the child to kill him. The town of Bethlehem is filled with soldiers doing house to house searches, killing all baby boys they can find. Artaban seeks shelter in an inn, but when the soldiers come banging on the door, he suddenly realizes that the landlady where he is resting is in terror – as she is hiding her own baby in a back room.
Artaban quickly goes to the door, taking out a priceless ruby that he offers as a bribe to the soldiers to keep them from entering. The child is saved but another gift for the newborn king is gone.
Artaban continues his search for some 30 years with no success. He hears of Jesus and of places where people have seen him, but somehow, he is never able to be in the same place. He now enters Jerusalem for the Passover, but by this point in his life he has only one gem left in his bag, an enormous pearl of great price.
He learns of Pilate’s edict to crucify Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, so he rushes out following the crowd to a hill outside the city called Calvary to see if he can – at last – get a glimpse of the King and offer him this last gem, the pearl, that he has carried for so long.
Along the way he sees a young girl being carted off and sold as a slave as partial payment for her family’s debts. She pleads with all passers-by to save her, and Artaban, hearing her plea and seeing her tears exchanges his last gem, the precious pearl, for her freedom.
Suddenly, with no warning, the sky grew ominously dark and the earth shook violently as never before. The sharp quake sent tiles crashing down from rooftops, and one struck Artaban a mortal blow on the head. As he lay dying on the street, bystanders heard him say – as if in a dream – “But Lord, when did I see you hungry and give you to eat; or when did I see you thirst and give you to drink; when did I see you naked and clothe you?” Then a beautiful and peaceful smile came over his face, his body relaxed, and he died in perfect peace.

This story is – of course – only fiction, but it is similar to many stories in real life each day.
Think of mothers who set aside their careers and chances for professional advancement to take care of our families and of us. Think of mothers who go out to work to provide for their families and juggle two careers. As a result, they often do not advance as far, as fast, or as high as their talents permitted because they selflessly and consistently placed their children before their careers, choosing family life before their professional lives. One day they too will ask the lord, “When did we do it for you?”
And think of fathers of families who work long and hard hours to provide the best for their families, often to offer them opportunities they never had themselves. We know of men who courageously step off the corporate ladder of success to spend time with their children or to avoid being caught up in corruption of a company or agency. Their careers are stopped, stalled, or sidetracked as a result, but one day they will hear the Lord say, “What you did honestly and faithfully, you did for me!”
In our world surrounded as we are by so many scandals and stories of corruption, greed, jealousy and disputes, we often overlook the many good stories of self-sacrifice, selflessness and self-giving that are all around us – stories of lives inspired by the story of the Star of Bethlehem
Today we will begin a new year with a new Catholic custom celebrated at this time of Epiphany, the Blessing of the Home! It is in the home that we learn the true meaning of the gifts of the Magi. As we take the blessed packets today and gather our family this evening or some other evening and say the prayers and mark our homes with the symbols of this day (20+C+M+B+16), let us pray that we can be like the Fourth Wise Man, helping others to find Christ, the King, and joining with them and all nations falling prostrate before the LORD!

 

 

 

 

 

A Post-Christmas Adventure: Discovering Hong Kong

Just as the Feast of the Holy Family ended, the presence in town of some friends from Europe who managed to find me, gave me an opportunity for three days to play tourist and finally to push out to new (and exciting) frontiers in Hong Kong and its surrounding area.

The first adventure was the start of multiple trips across Victoria Harbor using the historic and adventurous “Star Ferry” first operated in 1880 to cross form Hong Kong island to Kowloon. In nearly every guide book about Hong Kong, this ferry is mentioned on the “must see” list, and it is a much nicer and more exciting trip to cross the harbor by ferry than to cross it by subway passing deep under the harbor.

Boarding the ferry at Central from Pier 8, you go through an old turn-style (think of NYC subways of a half-century ago), once the ferry disgorges passengers from the previous crossing, the gates open, and men, women and children, young and old, many carrying enormous and heavy baggage, run down the pier to the rickety gangplank across the edge to the lower deck (the best one for taking photos, despite the noise and fumes from the diesel engines in the center of the deck).

You pull away for the 12-minute or so ride, marveling at the sight of Hong Kong with the iconic skyscrapers that mark its profile: HSBC, Bank of China, Jardine House (with the memorable round windows on every floor), the soaring towers of One and Two International Finance Centre, and countless others. If you time the trip right, at 8:00 p.m. the lights on all the buildings on both side of the harbor burst with imagery, dancing lights, and whimsy that reflects off the waters of the harbor. For Christmas, it was especially entertaining with so many Christmas lights and designs added to what is already quite a show.

Arriving on the opposite side you are in Tsim Sha Tsui (or TST) the entry way for Kowloon.

Hong Kong already is overcrowded with its population numbering some 7.24 million inhabitants with the median age being 45-54 for both men and women (but women being 53.8% of the population). Add to this dense population the crowds of ex-pats and tourists who arrived for the Christmas-New Year’s holidays and you can begin to imagine the density of crowds at every step of our 3-day “exposure tour” of Hong Kong.

It took us over 25 minutes just to break free of the crush of crowds arriving at Ocean Terminal (a shopoholic’s idea of heaven, nearly a half-mile of 2- or 3-levels of covered top line shops and boutiques).

We finally broke free onto Canton Road and headed north trying to find someplace to eat, and discovered a hidden alleyway that one gets to by walking up a flight of steps into a building, going through the upper floor and out into this alley that had over 40 restaurants on 3 floors on each side: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Nepali, Indonesian, Italian, German, Irish pub, Spanish, Portuguese, and eclectic fusions of any of the above.

We were waved into one place that was brightly lit with fluorescent lights and people sitting on small stools around tiny tables. Walking in, we realized we were the only non-Chinese, but no one seemed to notice. Soon a small table in the back near the kitchen was cleaned off, wiped down, and a set of chopsticks and tea cups were laid out and we sat to a very enjoyable Cantonese dinner of fish, rice, chicken, pork and bok choy and two full tea pots of green tea.  The dinner cost less than $10.

Fortified by this wonderful meal we made our way back to the ferry pier and were able to get great shots of the other side, with the lights glistening off the water.

Star Ferry pier Leaving on Star Ferry Massive crowds at Tsim Sha Tsui Alley of delight Hong Kong by night Me at TST

The following day, with better weather on our side, we made the trek up to The Peak (Victoria Peak), taking the tourist “Peak Tram” up the side of this 552 meter mountaintop, that rises almost vertically up the mountain attached to a steel pulley of sorts — a harrowing ride as you pass 40- and 50-storey buildings on each side.

Although it was a gray overcast day, the views from the top made the 40 minute wait on line worthwhile. But, not wanting to wait another 40 minutes to get back down from the mountaintop, I found a taxi stand and we drove back.

Another view of the peak with mountains of Kowloon and China in the distance From the Peak

We made a circuitous route back on the bottom to the western edge of SoHo (Mid-Levels) to another tourist site, the Man Mo Temple, nestled into a small area on Hollywood Road. This is a Taoist shrine dedicated to the gods of literature (Man) and war (Mo), built in1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants.

It has a great history, and is filled all day with worshipers and the curious (such as us) who made it through the portals into this dimly lit and heavily scented shrine filled with the smoke of many Joss sticks of incense burning, and the sounds of drums and clanging of cymbals as people prayed.

The entryway from the courtyard into the temple is marked by an enormous free-standing red, black and gold lacquer door, behind which hang dozens of earth colored spirals suspended from the ceiling that are burning incense coils.

Up a few stairs from the well of coils is the altar where the faithful place their burning joss sticks in pots of sand, occasionally banging a drum or clanging a cymbal to emphasize the prayers.

As you leave, you see the Lit Shing Kung, or “saints’ palace” with images of other Taoist and Buddhist deities or personages.

Buddhist scenes 1 Buddhist scenes 2 Buddhist scenes 3 Buddhist scenes 4 Buddhist scenes 5

There were many more adventures in these three days, including excursions through Causeway Bay and the shopping malls, meals in back alleys (some great food most of the time), a return to that alley in Kowloon for Korean barbecue, touring Central, and finally a trip out to Lantau Island (where the new airport is located) and a visit to the amazing Ngong Ping Plateau, site of the Tian Tan Buddha, the largest sitting Buddha in the world, a 202-ton, 23 meter high statute of Buddha sitting atop a large bronze lotus flower.

The trip up to this plateau is usually done by gondola cars, but the wait was over 2 hours and so we opted for the less-scenic bus ride up the treacherous mountain roads (waiting only 1.5 hours for the bus!).

Arriving in the late afternoon at the peak, we walked onto the grounds of the Po Lin Monastery and made our way (with hundreds of pilgrims) to the foot of the status, looking up the vast 268 steps up that stared at me. My mind was saying “Yes, you can do this!” But my legs were saying, “No way!” But here it was mind and will over body and up I went… and once you go up (on the right side) there is no way to go down unless you make it to the top.

The view from the top (at the base of the lotus flower) is spectacular from all side, especially looking down to the monastery in the distance.

The climb back was not too bad, but it is true what they say about climbing down stairs… it was just as hard, if not harder on knees and feet.

At the base we had a chance to witness a group of Buddhist pilgrims joining the monks in afternoon prayers and a sacrifice, a huge bonfire consuming piles and piles of joss sticks bought as sacrificial offerings.

At the end of this long 3-days of walking, climbing, waiting, crossing, traveling by ferry, tram, bus, car, Metro and feet… it was nice to finally unwind with a cold glass of beer and toast the last days of 2015, and all that had occurred in that memorable year.

Ngong Ping Plateau Visiting Lantao and Buddhist monastery Buddha Buddhist scenes 6 Buddha Stairs to Buddha Top of the stairs Po Lin Monastery Statues of gods Buddhist scenes 7 Buddhists priests preparing oblation Survivng a long day

A Memorable First Christmas in Hong Kong

When I last posted to this Blog, we were coming close to the joyous feast of Christmas, and the Christmas season here is highly anticipated and celebrated, just as much as in many other countries, but always with that special Asian/Chinese/Hong Kong touch.

After a number of pastoral and planning meetings, and blessed as we were with warm and sunny weather leading up to Christmas Eve, the work began transforming our large parish hall (seating capacity about 550 on two levels) into a place for worship for the Christmas Midnight Mass.

This multi-purpose hall with a large stage and rooms off the back of the stage, and an upper balcony seemed to present a daunting challenge to make it into a place for prayer and worship but thanks to the work of my predecessors here and even more to a dedicated staff of volunteers, within a few hours we completed the work of setting out the chairs, the decorations (including real Christmas trees), and setting up the stage as an altar/sanctuary space.

Below left is taken from the entryway, and on the right the view from the altar.

Xmas set-up1 Xmas set-up2

A Holy Christmas Night

Already by 10:00 p.m. as we opened the church and the hall for the people, the crowds were enormous. Mind you, we had 4 Midnight Masses scheduled to deal with the crowds: 2 Masses in Cantonese and 2 Masses in English at midnight.

It was a bit comic as the servers and I made it to the entry of the hall just as the pastor, Father John Kwan and his large group of altar servers was passing next to me to enter the front door of the church (we joked about “who would finish first” — he won!).

Both church and hall choirs had rehearsed for weeks, and each had a 30-minute period of caroling before Mass, which helped both get people seated without too much nose, but also set a prayerful tone. There were some last-minute changes when I had to remove some open space we had created for communion, and then change the way communion would be distributed, but at 5 minutes to 12 Midnight, we were ready.

It seems that most churches that use traditional Christmas carols throughout the world open with the same Adeste Fidelis – O Come All Ye Faithful, and Hong Kong was no exception. Actually both the church choir and our choir had the same opening hymn (in English!), adding a bit to both the celebration and confusion.

Getting into the hall took some effort as there was SRO (standing room only) on the floor level and the balcony, that has a limit we must follow, was already completely full. And yet, despite the overcrowding and limited seating (seats were rather small and locked together to make sure we had maximum space usage), everyone sang, and listened, and prayed in a way that made the celebration very special.

The Mass marked one of the most memorable Christmas celebrations I have had in many years. The packed church, the joy-filled singing and moments of quiet, and looking out and over nearly 600 people packed into this hall caught me a few times, wondering to myself, “How did I end up here, Lord?”

Here are a few photos of the Midnight Mass.

Midnight 2 Midnight 1c Midnight 1b Midnight 2a Midnight 3 Midnight 3a Midnight 5 Midnight 6 Midnight 7 Midnight 7a Midnight 8 Midnight 9

And here is a photo taken of the coordinator of our English community, Mrs. Angela Leung, who has done so much to organize the community in the year-long absence of a priest-pastor for the group, and who is the one who has managed through great patience and charm to teach me the way things are done correctly here.

Christmas Morning

After the 4 Midnight Masses, we had the usual Sunday morning schedule for Christmas Day, which meant I was the lucky priest who could “sleep in.’ But the excitement of the night before, as well as a 2:00 a.m. SKYPE call with my sister, Caren, had me up at 5:30 a.m. and ready to go.

One of the priests who lives with me (and who has been seen in previous photos), Father Joseph TAN Leitao, S.V.D., the youngest in our community here at St. Margaret’s, was fortunate to have his parents and another relative visit from their home in Hebei province, just south of Beijing. Due to difficulties in worshiping openly as Catholics, they made the trek south to visit their son and spend a few days here in Hong Kong. [Mainlanders can visit Hong Kong, but for a limited time only. To extend their time, they have to cross the border to the north of the New Territories, and spend a few days on the “other side,” then they can return, again for a limited time.]

When I went to get coffee on Christmas morning, our kitchen was alive with laughter as Fr. Joseph’s mother and relative joined our housekeeper Ng, and assisted by Joseph’s father and Father Francis LI Yu-ming, our oldest priest (but also from the mainland, and so a Mandarin-speaker as are Joseph’s family), were all sitting around a small table making Chinese dumplings for Christmas. It was quite a production and quite enjoyable to watch. once the filling for the dumplings was prepared (by the men), the women set out making and then shaping each individual wrapping for the the dumplings and then filling and folding each one carefully.

 

Below are in the back row, Joseph’s father and Father Francis, and then at the table, Ng, Joseph’s relative and his mother. Then Fr. Francis and I traded places for a photo.

Xmas morning 1 Xmas morning 2

 

CHRISTMAS MORNING -2

nativity1 chinesechristmasnativity_0171

After another period in confession before Mass, I was vested and with nearly the exact same crew of servers as the night before, we processed into the church for our 12:30 p.m. Christmas Day Mass, again absolutely packed and with standing room only.

The crowds at our weekly Masses have been increasing exponentially in recent weeks, but added to them were the many children of ex-patriots who live and work in Hong Kong, or the children of our Hong Kong parishioners who were home from their university studies in Europe and the US/Canada.

It was a truly spiritual moment praying with this community, and experiencing their own celebration of the Birth of Christ.

Xmas Day 1 Xmas Day 2 Xmas Day 3 Xmas Day 4 Xmas Day 5 full house Xmas Day 6 preaching Xmas Day 7 Xmas Day 8 me and Jesus w arms Xmas Day 9

And here is an impromptu photo of the servers (all very well trained) and our spirited choir.

Xmas Day 12 Xmas Day 11 choir

Feast of the Holy Family

Nativity 2 Flight to Egypt Holy Family

Our celebration of Christmas continued with the Feast of the Holy Family on December 27th, and we marked the day with the baptisms of three of our children preparing for First Holy Communion next May. Our practice with the children’s CCD is that those who are not baptized receive Baptism a full year or 18 months before First Communion (that here in Hong Kong is when they are 9 years of age). Inasmuch as in one family there was another son in Kindergarten, I also let him “slip in to the mix” for Baptism with his older brother.

For once, I did not have photos taken, but as a priest and missionary, it is always a special privilege to baptize someone into our faith and into our community, and this day was no exception.

With the end of Mass on this Sunday after Christmas, we more or less brought our Christmas to a close (there is more to come, but this BLOG will be published in parts as it may get too long).

I did want to share with you my Holy Family Homily or at least a poem I red at one point in the homily, as my reflection on this day and season. The poem is taken from the internet and has made the rounds, but it is a great reflection for parents and children.

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family
St. Margaret’s Church, Happy Valley

Ecc. 3:2-6, 12-14
Col. 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. So, inevitably the focus of the Scripture readings will be on family life. And to help us even more on this focus and reflection, we celebrate this morning the baptism of 3 young members into our community – a community that is also a family, a spiritual family. We welcome the Delanoue-Legarda and Mak families today, and their children, Emma Lilli, Jo Marchael and Pok Myron.
When we look at the family, just what kind of analogy could we use to describe a family today?
Since this is the Christmas season, something that used to be very common as a gift during this time of year provides an apt analogy – the family is like a Christmas fruit cake – mostly sweet and with some nuts; some may have more nuts! Nonetheless, we still have to admit that family life, like a fruit cake, can be quite messy.
It’s said that a family is like a social unit that is concerned with some kind of space.
The father is concerned with finding a parking space, the children are concerned with outer space, the mother is concerned with looking for more ample living space.
And when the family has to share the same space – and that is where challenges come in. Because problems can arise when we feel that our own space is encroached upon or has been trespassed. And when our space is encroached upon or is trespassed, then communications become fragile and tensed. We will be quick to speak and to lash out, but we will not be that ready to listen with attention.
Let me quote from a poem entitled “Harsh Words”:
I ran into a stranger as he passed by.
“Oh excuse me please” was my reply.
He said, “Please excuse me too;
I wasn’t watching for you.”
We were very polite, this stranger and I.
We went on our way and we said good-bye.
But at home a different story is told,
how we treat our loved ones, young and old.
Later that day, cooking the evening meal,
my son stood beside me very still.
When I turned, I nearly knocked him down.
“Move out of the way,” I said with a frown.
He walked away, his little heart broken.
I didn’t realize how harshly I’d spoken.
While I lay awake in bed,
God’s still small voice came to me and said,
“While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy you use,
but the children you love, you seem to abuse.
Go look on the kitchen floor,
you’ll find some flowers there by the door.”
“Those are the flowers he brought for you.
He picked them himself; pink, yellow and blue.
He stood very quietly not to spoil the surprise,
and you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes.”
By this time, I felt very small,
and now my tears began to fall.
I quietly went and knelt by his bed;
“Wake up, little one, wake up,” I said.
“Are these the flowers you picked for me?”
He smiled, “I found ’em out by the tree.”
“I picked ’em because they’re pretty like you.
I knew you’d like ’em, especially the blue.”
I said, “Son, I’m very sorry for the way I acted today;
I shouldn’t have yelled at you that way.”
He said, “Oh, Mom, that’s okay.
I love you anyway.
I said, “Son, I love you too,
and I do like the flowers, especially the blue.”

In today’s gospel, we heard about Mary and Joseph, and the 12 year-old Jesus going to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. It was an annual event for most Jewish families living within a few days distance from Jerusalem but this time round something happened. After the feast, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing.

Needless to say, Mary and Joseph must have panicked during those three days until they found Him in the temple. The gospel passage simply said that they were overcome when they saw Him, but that said a lot about how Mary and Joseph felt – the anxiety, the stress, the frustration, the anger (?). And we can certainly feel the seriousness of the tone in what Mary said to Jesus, “My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you.”

And the reply of Jesus was nowhere near consoling, and as if that was not enough, it was also confusing to say the least. That would have easily erupted into a parent-child quarrel and harsh words would fly about to cut and scorch. Yet, no further words were exchanged, maybe because Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus meant. But Mary stored up all these things in her heart. Joseph might be thinking that it would be easier to build a house for God than to raise the Son of God. Yes, whether it is the Son of God or not, it was never easy to be parents and it never will be.

Yes, there is that 4th Commandment – Honour your father and your mother, but we all know that we have broken that commandment time and again. Yet as much as that 4th Commandment is directed at children, there is also an underlying spiritual aspect to it directed to parents. This underlying spiritual aspect is that parents have this God-given authority over their children. But this authority is not to be used to drive their children to resentment and make them feel frustrated, but rather to teach them the virtue of honor.

Beyond the duty to care for their children and to provide for their needs, parents have a spiritual authority over their children. They are expected to raise their children in their faith, to bring them for Baptism and help prepare them for the other sacraments at the proper time. It also means that parents pray for their children. And it is not just praying for them when they are applying for entry into a particular school or university, and when they are taking their exams. Parents will have to exercise their spiritual authority over their children when they are ill, when they have gone wayward, when they are in trouble or in danger. Any parent who has stayed up late when a teenager or young adult does not come home on time knows how quickly we turn to prayer.

Parents have this power to call upon God’s protection and blessing over their children. And that is why it is so important that parents understand and exercise this spiritual power. One way to do this is to pray together as a family not only here in church each week but also each day at home, at meals, and at bedtime, in order that this spiritual power be manifested and bear spiritual fruits in their children.

One of the difficult challenges in family life is family quarrels. Family quarrels are bitter, especially when they are between parents and children. They can be about any issue, and can spring up unexpectedly and catch us totally unprepared. Whatever it is, family quarrels are bitter and painful. They are like wounds in the skin that won’t heal easily. Think again about the poem I read earlier. Often arguments arise when we are not attentive or listening carefully to each other.

But again, parents have this spiritual power to call upon God’s blessing so that there can be peace and unity in the family. Family peace and harmony cannot be taken for granted, but are qualities that each family member must strive follow to contribute to that peace and harmony in the home.

And after the Temple episode, Jesus went down with Mary and Joseph to Nazareth and lived under their authority. There He increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and with others. As it was for Jesus, so may it be for parents and children in the family. As St. John Paul II wrote: As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.

 

 

A Busy Advent – Awaiting on the Lord

This last month leading up to Christmas Eve hardly seems to have come and gone. My weekly appointment book for this month of December was so filled – with late additions, transfers of events, days off for sickness that had to be made up on other days and then the rhythm of the daily Masses and liturgies of Advent nudging us along day after day.

Earlier this evening I went through the parish hall where my community will celebrate Midnight Mass, and it is beautifully decorated – awaiting more fresh flowers tomorrow. In fact all day we had vans and cars of parishioners pulling up to unload pots and planters of poinsettias, orchids, and seasonal trees. The place looks great.

Our apartment is especially warm decorated with some any of these plants.

Our modest Christmas tree Poinsettias at our hosue 1 Ouor dining room

Since this is Wednesday evening, that means it is RACE NIGHT across the valley and the noise is especially loud tonight – last night for waging bets before the holiday weekend, and Hong Kong-ers love betting.

Learning and Sharing Faith – RCIA

One of my new initiatives in the parish was to resurrect an adult catechumenate. I spent most of November preparing the people for this, and in my last blog, we had begun the classes. I finally had to call a deadline as the class was getting too large to be workable — 20 adults now from various backgrounds is the final number.

The classes each week are a highlight for me, and last week – our last class before the holidays – I introduced the class to the classic Italian Christmas treat of panettone — thanks to a parishioner’s gift of some 50 of these! [Yikes, the rock band in the Racetrack just broke out in an edgy rendition of carols — I am losing my dinner…..]

Back to the BLOG — I am deeply humbled each week sharing my own faith journey with these men and women and learning about the seeds of faith that are suddenly beginning to open. It will be a real pleasure to accompany them in the coming 16 months (and to preside at the weddings of some of them too).

Together with these classes in faith formation, I had my first class for parents and sponsors (godparents) of young children I will baptize on December 27th.

Thanks to the generosity of some friends with Christmas gifts sent to my Mission Account, the books needed for the RCIA and for these seminars for sacramental preparation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage) have arrived., as well as manuals for some programs anticipated for the New Year.

Introducing something new

Those who were familiar with my BLOG from the years in Russia will remember my pleasant surprise learning of the European custom of house blessings during the period of Epiphany each year. I ahd seen this a bit in Italy, but it was while in Russia that I saw how touching this custom can be for people.

I decided to do a small project with the 160 children in our “Sunday school” [taught on Saturdays…], I spoke to the teachers about the custom of the house blessing, its history and cultural background, and the things needed to help make this project work (chalk, incense and a prayer text with instructions).

Sister Bernadette Woo, who is responsible for faith formation in the parish overheard me and asked if she could do the same with her 500+ children in religious ed. Soon it spread and in the end, our pastor decided this would be a great evangelical tool for families and so we set out to make over 2,000 individual packets, one for each family, containing the prayer card with the blessing they recite, the chalk for inscribing “20+C+M+B+16

and some pieces of incense to be kept in the home. The volunteers of the parish (an amazing group of women) met last week and set about making up the packets.

Home Blessing packets

And here are the ladies (and me hiding in the background) working on this project:

Home Blessing  preparing the 2000+ packets Home Blessing Me with Parish volunteers

And two of the volunteers and two of our catechists worked on a beautiful and creative display now in the foyer of the parish hall to help prepare people for the day we will distribute the blessed packets (January 3rd, here THE EPIPHANY).

Parish poster for House Blessings

Starting with the children

An old catechetical mission principle was to begin teaching children and through them you can draw their parents. Our Saturday religious instruction classes are a great draw — kids are brought in by parents or caretakers for the 1 hour classes and often the teachers work to include the parents in the classes and activities.

This past Saturday we had our last class for the semester, and closed the morning with a Mass in the small chapel of our parish center (on the 1st floor upstairs, a chapel used for our Japanese and Hispanic parishioners for their weekly Masses, as well as for funerals, baptisms and weddings).

The teachers did a great job preparing the children who were readers, acolytes and who also sang throughout the Mass. We decided to distribute the packets for these children (as a way of getting parents involved) on that Saturday (19th) and the response from families was great. At the end of the Mass, we tried to take a serious set of photos, but kids are kids.

CCD 11 CCD 10 CCD 8 CCD2 CCD 5 CCD 1 CCD4

Under the weather

Some know that I traveled rather lightly to Hong Kong. I mistakenly thought the temperatures here were hot and hotter; dry heat and then sauna-like steamy heat. Little did I know they actually have a winter, and that winter has come.

Suddenly nights were much cooler and our air-conditioners became space heaters. Between the fickle weather and the going in and out of heavily air-conditioned buildings and rooms, as well as public transportation, and suddenly you realize why people here sport surgical face masks so much.

Inevitably working in a church environment where you constantly are meeting and greeting people, germs quickly spread and soon I was down with my usual winter cold. I was lucky to have packed into my things some US cold medications, and those saved me from getting a worse cold than I had.

Still, I had to avoid crowds… hard to do when you have to go to the Immigration Office in the midst of rush hour and pick up my long-awaited ID card. So, armed with throat lozenges and my own face mask, I went into the throngs and happily returned with the ID card an hour later.

Me With new ID and cold

But the next day after doing this foolish maneuver I was more like….

illness

I had a few days to rest a bit and do some reading and more Christmas cards (some have received these, others… well they may be coming… or not). But now, thankfully, the worst is over and I am moving around and back in the swing of things.

Advent preparations and Christmas galas

Part of the rhythm of Advent is sacramental preparation for Christmas and this year we scheduled 2 big Penance services. The first was held a week ago Friday – 2+ hours with 8 priests in the church and parish hall hearing confessions. My job was the “ENGLISH ONLY” confessional which was surprisingly busy — straight confessions for 2.5 hours. I had brought along a book to go through in between penitents, but never had a chance to even open it.

This past Monday, we priests from the parish when to St. Paul;s Convent School (a Catholic high school operated by the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres), and sat through about 80 minutes of 300+ girls’ confessions. Here high school students all wear uniforms, and the uniforms vary from school to school.

These Sisters of Stl Paul also operate a large hospital in Causeway Bay and they host a 2-night gala dinner each year for the benefactors of the hospital.  Somehow I had not known of the invitation (it was discussed in Cantonese over dinner).

Meanwhile we had our annual Christmas luncheon with the parish workers at the Cricket Club down the road from us — a multi-cultural buffet that everyone enjoyed. The pastor had some 46 along for the luncheon. I assumed we would not be having dinner so “ate accordingly.” Returning to the office 2 hours later, they realized I was not aware of the charity dinner – which is a mandatory thing for all the priests.

So, after a quick siesta, I had to get all spruced up for a night out with 500 guests (medical field personnel, the Sister and many students of the medical school and nursing school as well as hospital workers and benefactors).

Here I am all rested up and ready for another gala:

Dressed up for evening out

It was a very nice affair, and we from the parish were generally kept at one table – although the entire evening was generally in Cantonese.

Here is an idea of the extensive menu:

Gala dinner menu

It was a successful evening for the Sisters and a great evening recognizing the contribution of their hospital to the community. Here are a few photos of those at my table.

The two Father JoesWith staff at gala dinner

Learning new Festivals

In the last two weeks or so I would overhear conversations about plans for the Winter Solstice festival, or Dongzhi.

I vaguely knew it was about winter but as the day drew nearer there was a lot of frantic activity among parishioners and staff.

Here is a brief description of this festival:

“The Dongzhi Festival is celebrated in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The one-day Dongzhi Festival coincides with the Winter Solstice each fall, which is the shortest day in the northern hemisphere and the longest day in the southern hemisphere.

In the past, the Dongzhi Festival was a day in which families visited each other, offered incense at temples, and took the day off from work. Large meals, similar to those eaten during Chinese New Year, would also be enjoyed during the Dongzhi Festival.”

So by 2:00 p.m. yesterday, Hong Kong was blissfully quiet and almost a ghost town. As mentioned above this is a day for family meals where small round rice-dumplings called tangyuan are the centerpiece of the menu.

Tangyuan pictures from Google Dongzhi festival

“In the past, many people froze to death during China’s harsh winters so tāngyuán (湯圓) were eaten because their roundness symbolizes family unity and harmony. Tāngyuán are sweet, round dumplings made with glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet sesame, peanut, or red bean paste and served in a clear, hot, syrup or soup. Tāngyuán are still eaten on the Dongzhi Festival as a side dish, snack, or dessert, but they can also be enjoyed all year, especially when the weather is cold.”

Today, most people have to work so the Dongzhi Festival is celebrated with less fanfare.

And now the still and quiet as we wait…

Believe it or not, the races just ended as I wrote those few words above.

As I finish off my notes for the homilies for tomorrow night and Friday morning, I want to end this blog with some beautiful, evocative art from China around the mysteries of Christ’s Birth.

Annunciation:

Chinese Annunciation

Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem but finding no room.

Seeking lodging in Bethlehem

Angels with shepherds

Angel to shepherds

And the Birth of Christ (from my Christmas letter)

Nativity

And children visiting the Christ-child

chinesechristmasnativity_017

And so as we all prepare for Christmas tomorrow evening, my prayers are with all of you from Fragrant Harbor and my first Christmas celebrating this great feast of the Nativity in this land where Maryknoll’s missions first began, awaiting on the Birth of the Lord.

 

Gaudete – “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Gaudete! The word evokes in me thoughts of Advents past – that mid-point of the preparations for Christmas, a break from the other Advent days and yet also a reminder how quickly Christmas is coming. The dark violet vestments are replaced with the color of rose, as is the 3rd candle of the Advent wreath.

I have been privileged to celebrate Christmas in many different lands and cultures, and I always find the unique touches impressionable and memorable. Whether it was my first Christmas in the missions in Shinyanga, Tanzania in 1974 celebrating with a “Charlie Brown-ish” 18-inch plastic tree that someone kindly sent to me (and in the pre-AMAZON.COM  and DHL days, it arrived in time), and my invention of using cotton balls from our medicine chest for “decorations; or hearing the hauntingly minor-key sounds of the bagpipes in the streets of Rome that mark the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the feverish beginning of Christmas shopping; or the attempts to recover and restore Catholic Christmas customs in the cold winters of Khabarovsk – somehow all of this can be summed up with the words of this Sunday, “Gaudete” – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! Indeed the Lord is near!”

An auspicious Birthday

November men

The day after our wonderful Thanksgiving celebrations at the Maryknoll House in Stanley, I marked my 66th birthday. Many who know me know that I tend to shy away from birthday celebrations. I try to make the day just like any other (hmmm – denial of aging, perhaps?). I remember once in Rome planning to have a root canal on my birthday just to make sure I was not tempted to have a cake.  I will leave comments on that maneuver to a therapist…

There were also many many more memorable birthdays surrounded by family and friends – and celebrated from Long Island, to Glen Ellyn, to Hingham, to Ossining, and then going “on the road” to Shinyanga and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, to Rome, then to Irkutsk and Khabarovsk in Russia, back to Rome and then for 5 years back home in the States, and now, this year, celebrating my birthday in great style here in Happy Valley.

The priests and staff of the parish wanted to organize a luncheon. They offered me the choice of menu – western or Chinese. I chose Chinese and more specifically dimsum, something I thoroughly enjoy. Fortunately for us, the Crowne Plaza hotel (a 7 minute walk from the rectory) has one of the most elegant dimsum restaurants in the area, so off we went for a special luncheon.

We had an enormous round table towards the back of the brightly lit “Victoria City Restaurant,” and I was seated at the “head” of the table with Father Francis Li (my elder brother in the rectory, who is in his late 80’s) at my right, and Sister Bernadette Woo (next in age to me) on my left, and then our pastor, Fr. John Kwan together with our parish manager, Mrs. Rosa Fang taking up the challenge of ordering food for the group.

They first asked me, “What do you like?” Well, I had learned early on to never ask “what is it?” when eating and generally for dimsum I was the guest and just ate what was ordered. However the previous week at a nice luncheon (in the same dining room) I had sampled a delicious deep-fried frilly Taro puffs, and so I mentioned those and they were the first items ordered.

Chinese-styled meals

In the rectory, living with 4 Chinese priests and with a Chinese cook, our meals are 90% Chinese (varied dishes, mostly Cantonese-styled but also Shanghai and Mandarin [northern] dishes).

The dishes come out at various points during the meal (you never really know when you have everything on the table as plates are rotated until everyone is “full”). Every meal is accompanied by a very hot soup – which is what we drink at meals — no water, tea or any other liquid is served at the house… just hot soup. You learn to “slur” your hot soup at the end of the meal as a digestive, and the soups run the gamut – mostly fish-stocks, but also vegetable and meat (bone) stocks. Sometimes they are clear broths, other time they are filled with chunks of bone and meat, or savory – or even sweet – vegetables and fruits to add depth of flavor.

Some of the soups are memorable — one of my favorite ones is made with squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin seeds and a small fruit boiled in the broth: a very pleasant “dessert” soup!

Another feature of food here is that just about everything seems to be edible and the food is often presented as a “total piece” such as this version of fried chicken, which is definitely not KFC!

Savory chicken from head to tail

If you look closely, the chicken is smiling! At this same meal (a recent trip to another restaurant) we had another wonderful delicacy. The bones and meat of a fish are carefully removed from the skin, the bones set aside, and the flesh whipped into a delicious mousse and then carefully reinserted into the fish skin and then delicately steamed and then quick stir-fried. I was so taken away eating it I forgot to take a photo but you eat the entire fish  – head to tail.

Chinese Birthday specialties

Since this was my birthday, many of the dishes were specific for birthday celebrations, including 2 different kinds of roasted pork, various types of dumplings, and something – well — ummm… The custom at banquets is to always serve those to your right and left (and they will serve you). From the various platters and steaming serving baskets you take the “serving” chopsticks (never using the chopstick you eat with to touch food being passed or served to others). You watch and wait for the central circular table on which the platters are placed to turn towards you, then you serve those around you, and then you are served.

This is very polite, and makes one always conscientious about those immediately to your right and left. The down side is that you can be served something that you may not really want….

So, one of the dishes was rather questionable but everyone seemed to be digging in. I was going to “pass,” but suddenly the pastor was leaning across with the serving chopsticks and dropped this “delicacy” into my small bowl. I played a bit with it with my chopsticks – too slimy to really get a grip on it. But everyone around me was making noises of appreciation as they dove into this delicacy. I tried… and I tried… and finally hid it under my bowl. What I could not fathom was how to possible eat “chicken feet.” Nor do I want to ever learn.

That small “oops” aside, the rest of the meal was great.

One of the great birthday dishes is “long life noodles” – noodles so long, really long like in almost 2-3 feet long… that to eat them is a challenge. Fortunately they come served with a pair of scissors so Rosa did the honors of first cutting through them making them a more manageable 12″-15″ — still a feat for chopsticks. There were two types, one very savory and earthy, while the other had more spices. Here Rosa uses huge bamboo sticks to mix the noodles.

Rosa tossing and mixing the Long Life noodles

The meal was great and those who follow me on Facebook were able to see my taping of Cantonese “Happy Birthday,” sung as they brought out the main dish, Steamed Longevity Bun with Yolk.

Steamed Birthday buns

These are enormous – I barely could eat a half (and the others seemed to each take a quarter). As it states, it is a sweet doughy bun steamed but in the center it  has a steamed egg yolk, and outside it has a brushed rose color to imitate the shape and color of a peach, a fruit symbolic of long life and health.

Here are a few last photos of the Birthday celebration:

Enjoying my birthday luncheon 1 Cutting the cake Giant steamed dumplings - Chinese birthday treat

As Sister Bernadette told me that morning, “Father, a full life in China is 60 years. Now that you are 66, that means you are really now 6 years old again.” Nice idea. And so passed another memorable birthday!

Becoming legal in a foreign land

When I was flying to Hong Kong at the end of October, I almost did not get on the flight because at the counter, the agent asked me “How long do you plan to stay in Hong Kong?” I forgot to say, “Oh, only for a few weeks.” But then again, she was also looking at my 3 over-sized suitcases, so I blurted out the truth, “Oh I plan to live there.” Well, one does not come into Hong Kong to “live” without a work Visa.

Once I arrived here I had to move fast to submit a work contract (through Maryknoll and the Diocese of Hong Kong) and then await the call from Immigration.

The call came through an e-mail on the 23rd of November. I then went on-line and with the help of Rosa made a reservation to present my paperwork (Rosa will often be mentioned because without her and her expert assistance, I would flounder quite a bit here).

On Thanksgiving Day I had my first appointment at the Immigration Tower, a tall building in Wan Chai district. I took the MTR (subway) and then walked – with hundreds of people – to the tower and to the logn lines and queues, but since I had an on-line “reservation,” I managed to finish all the work in about 45 minutes.

Once I was issued a “Work Visa,” I had to leave the country and then re-enter through Immigration so that the Visa could be activated.

Noting that I had to do this sooner rather than later, I took the ferry to Macau on Sunday the 29th of November in the late afternoon.

Hong Kong and Macau are on the right and left of what is called the Pearl River Estuary.

Pearl River Estuary map

The ferry takes about 65-75 minutes (depending on its speed) and these run very smoothly, although they are very crowded. Once you get your ticket, you are issued a seat number for the ride (no standing). Just before sunset, we were pulling into the southern island of Macau (like Hong Kong, Macau is a series of small islands). I made it through Customs and Immigration and then into a cab and heading across the bridge to the older main island (that borders China — although today, like Hong Kong, Macau is part of China –.

Macau is an old Portuguese territory with a long history of the Padroado and steeped in the old trading routes from China through Macau to India and on to Europe.

Although quite historical (especially when you see the remains of the facade of St Paul’s Church or the colonial government headquarters),

St Paul's Church Macau Colonial Government House, Macau

today, more than ever, Macau is Asia’s version of Las Vegas with glitzy casino chains and bright lights. But it is also a crowded city like Hong Kong as the following photo taken at dusk shows.

Hazy Macau sunset

And here is one of the bigger casinos.

Macau casino life

The overnight trip gave me an opportunity that I needed to read through the galley proofs of my thesis that is scheduled to be published next year in The Jurist. I had had the proofs for about 10 days but had no time to sit and really read though the pages (60) and footnotes. Thanks again to Rosa, I had a hard-copy prepared for the trip, in large enough sized print to help me make the corrections without going blind.

I finished the last page at 11:15 p.m., and was soon asleep – and woke the next morning at 6:00 a.m. to make my way back to the harbor and an early ferry back to Hong Kong, arriving just as rush hour ended.

Passing through Immigration on arrival I was finally “legal.” The next step was to return to the immigration Tower to begin the processing of my Government ID card, which I did on December 4th (being finger-printed, photographed, and interviewed by an immigration policewoman). I now have my permanent ID card number and the card will be ready on December 18th.

More introductions to ministry

Like any other diocese in the world, we are divided into deaneries here in Hong Kong, and my deanery covers the central and eastern portions of Hong Kong Island. On December 2nd, accompanied by our pastor here, who is also our dean, and with Fr. Joseph Tan, our youngest priest, we made our way by taxi to the east around Fortress Hill, past North Point and Quarry Bay and finally to Shau Kei Wan to Holy Cross parish that would host the meeting of some 22 priests and deacons.

It was my first chance to meet many of the other priests – diocesan and missionary – working in the area, and for them to meet me. Fortunately, there are a few other Maryknollers in my deanery, including Fathers Vince Corbelli, Jack Cuff, John McAuley and Jim McAuley.

Returning to teaching adult catechetics

One of the first works I undertook as a seminarian and then as a priest in Tanzania was conducting classes for adult catechumenates (or as we know this in the US, an RCIA class [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]).

Once I unpacked at the beginning of November, a number of people asked me if I would be willing to form a catechumenate class. Conducting such classes is one of the most challenging and yet fulfilling parts of being a missionary. Here you are, a foreigner in a foreign land and with a faith that is often perceived as “foreign.”

And yet the primary reason we go into Mission is to share our faith with others, and in Maryknoll, to share our faith in a foreign land in a language and culture that are not our own.

Although I was never completely separated from this work of primary evangelization, other works and ministries took up much of my time and energy.

Now I find myself in a country whose culture is totally alien to me, and surrounded by people speaking a language I can barely understand. And yet, here was this call, this opportunity to enter into primary evangelization.  So with the encouragement of the pastor we began announcing the formation of a new class or group who would be prepared for baptism at Easter 2017 (we have a minimal 16-month program).

I was not sure what to expect or hope for. But slowly applications to enter the class began to be placed on my office desk and we had our first meeting on December 3rd – appropriately starting on the Feast of the great missionary, St. Francis Xavier, S.J.

My group began with about 14 – and then grew and grew and so after only 2 meetings and as we continue our 90-minute classes on Thursday evenings, I now have 22 men and women, some baptized Catholics but who lacked any catechetical formation, others are Christians who want to become Catholics, and others are non-Christians. There are a few couples in the group (some traveling from Kowloon and from the south part of Hong Kong island); some are Chinese, some are other nationalities here, including some Australians, Indians and Malaysians. And they range in age from 16 to 63.

Adult Catechumenate

Thanks to the generosity of friends I was able to order and import textbooks, and most recently Bibles (we can only get New Testaments here in English). Yes, the course is in English, but with the challenge of trying to share my faith in a “Chinese milieu,” which pushes me to spend all my spare time reading books on Chinese history and culture.

The time spent preparing the classes each Thursday is busy – but by the end of the evening, sharing my own faith with those men and women makes all the work very worthwhile.

The Judge is in…

You may wonder how my work as a canon lawyer is going? Well, after a few weeks spent studying back cases in the marriage tribunal here, I was given my first case on November 25th.

When I arrived in my office at the chancery I was handed a large file of a case and there was a cover letter from the Cardinal appointing me “Sole Judge of the 2nd Instance,” or of appeal cases. I had a few hours to read through a case and then render a judgment based on the acts and merits of the case.

Fortunately it was a fairly straightforward case and aside from a small hiccup in getting used to my office computer (I erased the entire judgment just as I was about to write the last sentence, and had no backed-up copy…), I completed the work.

Now I am working on my own cases and the work is unfolding gradually until I am able to acquire a portable tape recorder (dictaphone) and the computer hardware needed to do legal dictation and write briefs. I got an estimate for this apparatus (yikes), and will meet with my superiors in about 10 days to see if they can find the funding.

One of the reasons for this is that we have hardly any staff and they generally work translating the testimonies of witnesses from Cantonese or Mandarin to English. Since I do not speak either Chinese language, my cases are generally in English and so they expect me to transcribe my own testimonies (doing the work of a recording secretary or transcriber as well as be judge). One of these computer programs (DRAGON) is used in both the medical and legal field and allows one to “dictate” work and it is printed by the computer as you speak. Let’s hope it works.

In the mean time I am organizing all of the jurisprudence cases we studied at The Catholic University of America, and gradually making my way through the procedural changes that went into effect for the whole Church last Tuesday.

tribunal

Living in a hot house

Our 6th floor apartment over the parish center has a nice configuration with most of the bedrooms blissfully on the back side of the building facing Leighton Hill’s cliffs, while I – alone – have a room facing THE RACE TRACK. Thankfully the track only seems to operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but sometimes the blaring of music and shouting are so distracting nothing seems to be able to block out the noise.

Our living quarters are a long corridor off our foyer and a main sitting room and dining room. Both of these rooms are spacious and have some nice furniture. But what places them at a higher level are all the fresh plants, and beautiful flower arrangements that seem to find their way to our apartment each week.

Just a week or so ago there was a lot of activity as workers brought up 3 elevators-full of enormous white orchid plants to brighten the space.

Apartment orchids 1 Apartment orchids 2 Apartment orchids 3

These planters, some 3-feet and some over 4-feet in height and with multiple orchid stems in each large ceramic pot are beautiful and we all share in caring for them.

Truth be told, as beautiful as they are, these are funereal arrangements donated to the church after a big funeral. White is the color of death here (as opposed to the West’s use of black). But looking at these planters filled with so many orchid blossoms one can only thank the families that thought of offering them to the church and rectory. Aside from these, we also have vases of cut flowers donated for the church and our residence.

And now with Christmas approaching, our hallways and landings are filled with poinsetta plants for Christmas.

My classmate’s legacy

One of my closest friends in Maryknoll, and a classmate since our novitiate year, Father Sean P. Burke, M.M., who passed away here in Hong Kong a few years ago, had a touching hobby. He was fascinated by the story of the Nativity and most especially by its expression in so many cultures through creche sets.

Slowly he began a collection of creche sets from all over the world, and as family, friends and acquaintances knew of his passion for these the collection grew and grew. One of Sean;s legacies (and there are many) was a book of photos taken of a good majority of the creche sets he had so painstakingly collected and cataloged.

Each year in Advent, Sean would carefully set out these collections in rooms at our Maryknoll House in Stanley and soon word spread of this unique collection and people from all over Hong Kong and beyond traveled to Stanley to see the massive collections.

Although Sean has passed away, we continue the practice of placing his collection out for the public every year for the Advent Christmas season. Last week, on a brief trip to Stanley to do some business there, I had a chance to see first-hand Sean’s legacy and want to share a few photos of that visit, and share also this beautiful tribute of my classmate for the mystery of the Incarnation.

Fr Sean's Nativities 1 Fr Sean's Nativities 2

Fr Sean's Nativities 3 Fr. Sean's Nativities 5 Fr. Sean's Nativities 4

Gaudete! Rejoice in the Lord, always

Friends as we began the 2nd half of our Advent preparation for Christmas, the words of tomorrow’s liturgy ring very true for me.

The words of the opening prayer are my prayer and hope for all of you.

O God, see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.

Each evening when I return to the parish, I look up the massive staircase in front of our church and see the lighting on the open doors and see how this “light”continues to draw men and women of faith to our community.

The Light is on

Many of you have received my annual Christmas letter by e-mail; others will receive it in snail mail. As we move closer to Christmas, please keep me and my mission here in Fragrant Harbor in your prayers.