Thanksgiving in a Foreign Land “How can I repay the Lord….? Ps. 116:12-13

Times change and seasons change and sometimes (or more often than we would want to admit) we change. We graduate from a school and move on. We pack our things and move somewhere else. In the years I lived in the US, Europe and Russia, we change out our closets as seasons change, unpacking warmer or heavier clothes, and storing those lighter clothes for the summers or seaside vacations.
Finding myself again in a very temperate climate that does not have the four stages or seasons of my youth, I am grateful to God for the few recent years that were spent in various parts of the northeast US, where I could again rekindle the joy of colorful autumn days and their crisp evenings filled with the scent of wet fallen leaves or (reaching farther back in memory) the smell of burning leaves in the street, that distinctive odor that so marked our fall seasons (and our clothes!).
The season of autumn always marked changes – a new school year, a new school, beginning high school in a foreign land (for those of us from Garden City) called BROOKLYN, and then entering college studies in a suburb of Chicago, or a novitiate year in the most vibrantly colorful northeast, New England (Hingham), and other autumns on the eastern shores of the Hudson River in upper Westchester County. Here is a great photo that reminds me of the wonder and beauty of God’s creation!


Autumn colorful foliage over lake with beautiful woods in red and yellow color.

Autumn colorful foliage over lake with beautiful woods in red and yellow color.

The missions, however, present a bit of a challenge to “seasons.” There are rainy and dry seasons; periods of intense heat or freezing cold; times of dry heat and times of excruciating humidity. I knew that I would miss such changes when I took up this new assignment, and so I smiled, recently, when I was warned that this week the temperature will drop…. to the high 60’s (F). I am sure too, that as time goes on, I will see other “seasonal changes” here in Hong Kong, and I know that there are more pronounced changes when one goes into the Mainland [and a note here, that as Hong Kong is now part of China, the common way of differentiating seems to be just saying “The Mainland,” and it means everything else BUT the Hong Kong area].

Because of both the unity of the Mainland with Hong Kong, and the nuanced differences about that union, those of us who live and work here, if we ever want to visit the Mainland, need to apply for a Visa, and lately the Mainland government has been granting 10-year multiple entry Visas, so I was fortunate to get one of those for the future. It lasts for the life of my current passport, which is great.

China Visa
More changes and more new experiences
My third full week here at St. Margaret’s was marked by even more meetings and introductions to new parts of my work.
We in Maryknoll began the week on November 16th with a general meeting of those of us living and working in Hong Kong meeting with Father Ray Finch, M.M., our Superior General, who was passing through Hong Kong to visit other areas in Asia and Southeast Asia where we work. It was a great afternoon of exchanging information, then a quiet Mass with the Maryknoll Sisters here in Hong Kong, celebrating and praying for those priests, Sisters and Brothers of our communities who passed away in the last year, and finally a great “sun-downer and barbecue” on the back lawn of our Stanley House, overlooking Stanley Harbor. That event was where I left off the BLOG last week.

In case you missed it – and because I like the photo, here again are Sister Marilu and Fr. Joe Thaler and I — classmates from 1972-1974 in formation.

Tuesday, the 17th I returned to my other office in the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of Hong Kong, located (as I have now discovered) on the east side of a part of town called SOHO. The terrain getting to Caine Road is perilous. From Happy Valley, we end up going around the entire perimeter of the Happy Valley Race Course and Sports grounds, and heading back north on Wong Nai Chung Road, that conveniently is a one-way street that goes around the entire complex. On the west side, we pass a mountainside of graves and cemeteries, including a Hong Kong cemetery, Roman Catholic (St. Michael’s) cemetery, and a Muslim and a Hindu cemetery [it is both fascinating and bleak]. In this month recalling the Souls in Purgatory, it was/is a time to commemorate all those who have “gone before us marked with the sign of peace,” and passing this cemetery on the high slopes that separate Happy Valley from the Wan Chai district reminds us of our own fragile life.

This is a sign at the entry to St.l Michael’s cemetery.


Here is a panorama of the cemetery built into a steep and high hillside.

St Michaels1

I found this sign ironic — if only it was so easy to find “a way out” of a cemetery, one that did not include grace.

Way Out of cemetery
Once you pass the cemetery area you move west merging with traffic coming down the hills from the south part of the island, and traffic moving east and west from Chai Wan, Quarry Bay, North Point and Causeway Bay to Wan Chai, Admiralty, Central, NOHO and SOHO (where the cathedral is located), through Mid-Levels, and then further west to University Heights and Kennedy Town. As you travel east and west along Victoria Harbor, these points become beacons for directions, especially finding one’s way amid the enormous skyscrapers that mark nearly every nook and cranny of space on the north side.
On that Tuesday, I started with a meeting with the Vicar General of the Diocese (Father Dominic Chan) who welcomed me, and went over my responsibilities in the diocese with me, and then graciously showed me around the offices of the cathedral (where he is also pastor).
I made it to my office, and finally had technicians come in to hook up and start my computer. Only one problem…. the computer in my office was completely in Cantonese. After an hour of work, they decided (after I pleaded with them NOT to attempt overwriting the Windows program in Cantonese with a Windows program in English), to get me a new tower. With that pretty much forcing me to head home, I packed and began working my way downhill to see if I could find the Catholic bookstore on Connaught Road (a major through-way). I managed to find it and had a check-list of items needed, including a Cantonese-English New Testament for my soon-to-be adult RCIA (adult catechumenate) program, some wall crucifixes for house blessings, and manuals for prayers and teaching.
By this point, the fact that I had been wearing a brand new – never-worn-before – pair of shoes hit me (painfully). Given the rush hour, I had not choice but to return home via the MTR (metro) and made my way to all the escalators underground. Getting to Causeway Bay (our stop) was not so bad, but it was the nearly 1/4 mile underground up escalator-down escalator- up stairs – down stairs – round tunnels that literally did my ankles in with the shoes. I was very very grateful seeing the last turn up Broadwood Road and the parish, and quickly changed out of the ^%$% shoes into sandals.
“How can I thank the Lord…?”
I barely settled in at my parish office, relaxing my sore legs and feet, when I received a phone call. It was the Anglican chaplain of the Hong Kong Sanitorium Hospital, originally built in 1922 and today a soaring green-glass tower attests to the excellent care given to those who enter this medical facility affiliated with the Open University of Hong Kong. The smaller building to the right (white) is the original hospital and nursing school built in 1922, while the soaring green-glass tower is the new state-of-the-art medical facility.

HK Sanatorium Hospital

I was called to pray over and anoint a British man who was dying. He was younger than me, suffering from a brain tumor, and his wife and caretaker were there when I arrived. I spoke briefly with them and then with the patient. He was in a semi-conscious state, but when I took his hand, he squeezed back very strongly.

We prayed and then I began the Rite of Anointing of the Sick – a sacrament sadly used less and less among Catholics. Fortunately for this man, who many thought was an Anglican, his caretaker (a devout woman from the Philippines) had taken the time to SKYPE his mother at home and she confided to the caretaker that he was Catholic. And so, it was the caretaker who called for a priest. The patient followed the prayers (I have learned to speak in a normal voice rather than a whisper at such times). I then spoke with his wife and left her my name and phone number in case they needed me again.

One way I constantly thank the Lord is for the grace to be able to be with people at such critical times. Ministry such as this demonstrates the graces we receive from God that we can often overlook.

Pastoral calls and responsibilities and learning the local Church rules…

The parish of St. Margaret Mary covers an enormous portion of the northern part of Hong Kong island, and is now considered the larges parish in numbers (and some say… also in wealth…) in the diocese.

Aside from the church here at the foot of Leighton Hill and Caroline Hill in Happy Valley, we also have 3 other stations or chapels for Mass.

The first, and largest, is the private “chapel” of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, just over the point where Leighton and Caroline Hills meet, and just behind the Happy Valley Sports Stadium.

The Sisters operate a primary school (just up the street from us, in photos below, the beige building being the original mission school and the large white structure behind it being the middle school today.)

Original St Pauls convent school New st pauls convent school

At their convent, they have an orphanage, secondary school, and a large modern hospital, as well as their chapel mentioned above, dedicated to Christ the King.

Xt the King Chapel

This chapel, built by the Sisters over some years is almost twice as large as our parish church. Here is some background on it, if you like.

Another chapel or community center for the parish is Rosaryhill School, founded by the Dominicans Friars in 1959 that today is a lprimary, secondary (“O” and “A” levels — e.g. from Form I-VI) and a Business College. Here Masses are celebrated every weekend in English, French and German.

Rosary Hill

And further up the hill moving west is Wah Yan College adminsitered since 1919 by the Irish Province of the Jesuits, and considered one of the most prestigious schools in all of Hong Kong (sort of the local version of Regis High School  for those of you from NY). Here Mass is also celebrated each weekend in English.

Wah Yan College, Hong Kong

On of the greatest contributions to Hong Kong by the Catholic Church is in the field of education. The city has a few hundred educational institutions either operated by or sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, and they are filled to the brink with students.

So – getting back to the parish, the pastor, Father John Kwan, asked me to now oversee and be responsible for all the “ex-patriot” communities and their liturgical celebrations and pastoral activities. So aside from the English-speaking groups, I also am asked to coordinate with the priests responsible for the French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Indonesian Masses. It will be an added challenge as the chaplains for most of these communities have operated somewhat independently from parish (and diocesan?) oversight, and there is a move by the diocese to get all the priests on the same page. For the English groups, it is easy as I know the other priests, and one of them, Father John Russell, S.J. is the dean of all the canon lawyers and judges in the diocese (and his office is next to mine in the tribunal). The French and German communities are more obscure as the priests are supplied through their home nations (and embassies) and so sometimes feel they are above or not responsible to the local diocesan structures. How this plays out in coming weeks and months should be interesting (and I discovered that I have a common language with both chaplains for the French and Germans — RUSSIAN! One is from Poland and the other from former East-Germany… so when I am not being clear, I switch to Russian).

Another blessing from the Lord, I suppose – having spent almost 7 years in Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Really, a small village

Despite the enormous population of this territory, Hong Kong is really a small village. In the course of any day you meet or pass by thousands. Just opening a window and look out at the nearest neighboring high-rise apartment has you peering in on the lives of a few hundred people (and they peer into your life too!)

I have finished 3-plus weeks here and yet, although I speak no Cantonese, word of the “new priest” has gotten around and I am finding it difficult to keep so many appointments in my desk diary (counseling, marriage preparation, baptismal preparation, blessings of home, hospital calls, visits to classrooms of CCD children, working with the lectors and choirs, planning weekend liturgies, presiding and funerals and wedding, interacting with a large and vivacious parish staff and catechists and volunteers, hearing confessions, organizing a new RCIA program, and fielding any class that come in to the parish and responding to pastoral needs as they arise.

Already I have met with 3 couples planning weddings after Easter (two of which I will preside), and am being called for marriage counseling sessions (sort of the preventative steps before they would have to see me after the divorce for a nullity case).

Another blessing from the Lord has been my “coveted” J.C.L. (Canon Law) degree opening new avenues of pastoral ministry.

Small and funny stories

Over the weekend, I was told that our cook, Fong Je, would be taking off all of this week. Usually on Saturday most of the priests eat together, but this particular weekend was exceptionally busy with weddings and other events and so only Father Francis Li (our octogenarian from the Mainland) and I were in. Father Francis loves Chinese noodles, but especially the northern-Chinese way of making them, which is mixed with aromatic spices, but served without any soupy sauces.

We were chatting about Italian “noodles” and he asked if I could make something along the Chinese style, and I thought, yes, bolognese sauce would be what he would like. So he called in Fong Je and told her that I would cook Saturday.

The comedy began. Fong Je speaks only Cantonese, as does our amah and Ming, ;our custodian. With Fong Je opening and closing drawers, cabinets, the fridges, etc… I had to “memorize” what I was seeing (knowing I could not possibly ask “Where is…?” I then pulled out what I knew I would need for a basic bolognese sauce: garlic, onion, chopped meat, salt, pepper, minced carrot, milk, red wine, fresh tomatoes, parsley and some spices. I found all of these, but Fong Je kept insisting I would want to use Ketchup too. She went off to do some shopping while I worked.

An hour later she came in, with the kitchen filled with the smell of the sauce simmering, and she started calling Ming and our amah, and soon the three of them were chatting as I stood there. Father Francis came in and doubled over laughing as he heard the three of them telling him how wonderful everything was — pointing at me, gesturing, “shouting” (somehow, no matter what is said, Cantonese always sounds like shouting). I did learn the word for “delicious” (sounds like “home-made”) and soon they were teaching me words for all my ingredients and teaching me some of the 9 tones. It was a lot of fun, and there is a great photo Fong Je took of me holding the finished product (Linguini and bolognese sauce) but it is on her phone and I could not tell her to send me a copy….

Sunday and dip sum

This past Sunday, after the celebration of Christ the King, I was invited to a local hotel for dip sum with members of the lectors and choirs of our parish and Christ the King Chapel. It was a great time, but since we had two tables, I had to first eat with one group, and then with the other.

The food was wonderful – everything. Wish I could have remembered half of it, but I enjoyed the way the dishes are presented in steamed bamboo baskets piled two or three high. There were savory and sweet dishes, meats, vegetarian dishes, fish etc…

The price was not bad and one of the great things of dip sum is that you only eat so much, but the tastes are so varied you fill up quickly.

Take me to church!

Every Tuesday morning, I celebrate Mass at 6:40 a.m. for the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres at Christ the King Chapel. Although it is not THAT far, the walk would have me climbing and then descending two pretty steep hills. So one of the parish volunteers picks me up.

This was my 2nd week going to the sisters. I was running late and knew my driver had a nice Mercedes (doesn’t everyone?). I came running out the “secret door” entrance (as we do not open until 7:00 a.m.), and ran down the steps in front of the church and saw a black Mercedes sitting there. I waved, then went to the passenger side and got in. I barely got out “Ni Hao!” (Good morning) and turned to buckle up. I noticed my female driver was now a male, but through, “Ok maybe her husband is taking me today.” So the guy turned on the engine and said “Saint Paul’s?” and I said “Yes, thanks.”

I arrived on time and began Mass.

After Mass I did not see my black Mercedes and the driver so I figured I was supposed to walk home… and was starting to move towards the gate when I heard, “Father Mak-Kye-Ye”! I turned and there was my usual driver. She waved me towards a beige Mercedes asked me how I got there for Mass?

Seems, I jumped into the car of a parishioner who was there for our 6:45 a.m. Mass and he just assumed I was asking HIM for a lift so he took me. AMAZING.

The judge is in!

Today in the chancery I stopped by to see the Judicial Vicar before I began work. I was first handed an envelope from the Vicar General and Chancellor — the decrees of my ecclesiastical appointments to both the parish (as associate pastor) and to the tribunal (as judge).

After trading some short talk with Father Francis Tze, the Judicial Vicar, he dug through the pile of pending cases on his desk and pulled out one, and said, “Can you read this and have the judgment on my desk before you go home today?”

I took the folder and returned to my office and then opened it. On the top was a Decree from the Cardinal appointing me “sole judge for 2nd Instance cases.” This means I am doing something like the appeal on cases. Under the current legislation, all marriage cases automatically are reviewed in the 2nd instance (but this will all change on December 8th when the new discipline of Pope Francis begins). I never saw a 2nd instance case before, and went back to ask, “What about the other two judges?” Normally 2nd instance is a collegial decision among 3 judges.

I was told that in Hong Kong, given that it is not a suffragan of anyone, they have some vague “special permission” to hear cases in the 2nd instance with a sole judge. As Pope Francis has so often been mis-quoted as saying, “WHO AM I TO JUDGE?”

So off I went to study the case, formulate my decision, and then write it – my first ever judgment of a marriage nullity case. Lucky for me it was so clearly a case for annulment (for my canon law friends, it was one of the clearest possible “total simulation” cases ever.)

So, yet again, I thank the Lord for this degree and this ability to judge and weigh mercifully justice in the Church.

The just judge

It is late now on the eve of Thanksgiving. The horses are (ugh) still running even now at 11:00 p.m. in this city that never sleeps.

Race night... again

The traffic on Ventris Road that climbs upwards to Caroline Hill and beyond is quiet now – but still well-lit.

Ventris Hill at night

And this parish church, nestled amid so many hills and in this valley surrounded by tall slim apartment complexes with hundreds and hundreds of residents, this church quietly sits with the lights always on.

The Light is on

As many of you sit to begin your Thanksgiving dinner this year, it would be good to take a moment and count the many blessings each of us has received and pray, ”

“How can I repay the Lord… for the good he has done for me?”




Launching out into the deep

In most of the places where I have been sent over the years, I had the privilege and opportunity to have a gradual introduction into the new mission area where I would serve. Maryknoll, from the time of its first missions here at the mouth of the Pearl River in South China, operated an excellent system of language and cultural studies that every missioner underwent for the first months or even years before being inserted into any form of pastoral ministry.

But times – and exigencies – change the way we can do mission now in the 21st century, and often the luxuries of the past of a leisurely and ordered insertion into a new culture with a new idiom of language and the opportunity to learn how to avoid the mistakes of “foreigners” are no longer possible, especially when one is in his late 60’s.

As noted in my earlier posts, I arrived here on October 28th and by October 30th, I was already moved into my parish and began work on November 1st. This week marked my 3rd Sunday with the English-language community here, as well as the beginning of my other work in the diocesan tribunal.

Small town reunions

I came to know of a few people who are friends with neighbors of mine from Garden City, and on Monday, I made my way to Sheung Wan station on the metro (far western side towards Hong Kong University and Kennedy Town), and met up with a lawyer and journalist who have had many years of experience here. They chose one of the “in” Italian restaurants at Millennium Plaza (Queens Road and Bonham Strand), and it was interesting and enlightening listening to their own experiences of living and working here with their families.

Tuesday was a day spent out at our Maryknoll House in Stanley. This is the sign at our entrance on 44 Stanley Village Road, and it leads up a very steep and winding path to the summit of the hill where we built out house back in the 1920’s.

Entrance to Stanley

It was nice to get away from the noise and rush of the city center and bask in the quiet of a country retreat house. Nestled in the mountains between Repulse Bay and and Tai Tam Bay with the peninsula jutting out on the east end of Stanley Bay into the East Lamma Channel, the mountains rise up from the beaches to “The Twins” – two peaks nearly 400 meters above sea level. Here is a photo of our house (with the green-tiled roof).

Our Maryknoll House on hills of Stanley

And a view of the panorama of Stanley Bay.

Panorama of Stanley BayStanley harbor view

That evening, our local superior, Father Brian Barrons, M.M. hosted a “welcome dinner” for me to meet the men working in and around Hong Kong, and after the dinner, he kindly provided the house car to drive me home to Happy Valley.

The Diocese of Hong Kong and Tribunal

Following my studies program at The Catholic University of America, one of the challenges my superiors faced was finding me a place in ministry within the Maryknoll world where I could not only do pastoral work, but more importantly, use the new education I had just finished.

The Diocese of Hong Kong, that covers the entire territory of Hong Kong, Kowloon, the New Territories, Lantau, Cheung Chau, Lama and many other islands in the West Lama Channel, Victoria Harbor and off the shores of both West and East Kowloon, was established as an Apostolic Vicariate on 4 October 1874, and elevated to the rank of a Diocese on 11 April 1946. Its Chinese name is Xianggang. It has a population of 7.1 million people living on only 1.104 km2 of land, and the Catholic population is 563,000, divided into 51 parishes and 97 stations or chapels. There are about 70 diocesan priests and 233 religious men (missionaries and local), as well as nearly 500 religious Sisters serving the communities here.

The Bishop of Hong Kong is 76 year-old Cardinal John TONG HON, a priest born and raised in Hong Kong who has been a friend of Maryknoll for many years (he and I met in the late 80’s when I was a graduate student in Rome and he often was a guest at our house there).

Cardinal John Tong in cathedral

My pastor here at St. Margaret’s, Father John B. Kwan, told me after breakfast on Wednesday that I was expected at the diocesan headquarters on Caine Road (Central District) at 2:15 p.m. that day. My bad luck, it was a muggy, overcast day, and it was suggested, as this was my first formal meeting, best to go dressed in my black suit!

It took me a while to flag down a taxi (because, like the rest of the world, when it looks like it is about to rain… the taxis disappear). I had been told that the cathedral is “up a hill” from Central Metro stop… but what a hill! Thank God I was in a taxi!

Our cathedral, Immaculate Conception, is almost completely hidden by the surrounding diocesan buildings built up on either side (a large diocesan office block, where I will have an office, the cathedral offices, a college, high school, and large CARITAS (charity development) headquarters.

Front of Immaculate Conception cathedral

The interior is very bright and minimalist in decoration, and offers a very restful and quiet place for worship in the midst of all the tall buildings and hillside surrounding the church.

intgerior 1 of cathedral

I made my way the the 12th floor of the diocesan building and had my meeting first with Cardinal Tong, and then with my immediate supervisor, Father Francis Tse, the Judicial Vicar of the Diocese. Over the course of the next 2 hours or so, I was introduced to one of the Auxiliary bishops (there are 3), Bishop Stephen Lee (also a canon lawyer), the Chancellor, Father Lawrence Lee, and all the other secretaries in the diocesan tribunal offices.

I was shown to my own office, on the 11th floor, and introduced to the staff there. It is a small, quiet place, situated near the archives, with the current files all kept in the office of the Judicial Vicar on the 12th floor. So.. I will be doing quite a bit of stair-climbing between floors.

Both the Cardinal and Judicial Vicar explained the work before me (as a judge, but also switching roles, as needed, to be an auditor, and as an advocate for certain cases). The majority of our cases are more “missionary,” meaning a lot of “Petrine” and “Pauline” privilege work, but there are also the usual nullity cases to address.

They were very kind and solicitous in letting me determine how many hours and on what days I would work at the chancery, and then allowed me to also work from my office in the parish here at Happy Valley. This made my pastor very happy himself, knowing I would be “available” for pastoral work too.

A Cup of water, please!

Having been on the road for 35 minutes to get to these meetings, and then sitting through them in somewhat warm rooms (and me wilting in my black suit), Father Tse asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I was a bit surprised at the offer, as coffee is rarely served here outside of newly-fashionable coffee houses, and the usual beverage is tea. But Father Tse did his canon law studies at St. Paul’s University, Toronto.

So, when he asked if I wanted something to drink I answered, “Just a cup of water, please!” I was badly in need of a nice, big, cold cup of water.

Oh… but this is China….

In a few minutes Father Tse’s secretary brought in a very elegant square saucer and big white ceramic cup — filled with……. HOT WATER!

In China, the beverage of choice is just plain old HOT WATER. I suddenly remembered a brief period in 1977 when I was finishing my M.A. at the University of Notre Dame and living at the Maryknoll House in Chicago. We had a Chinese priest in residence, and I recalled now… staring at him drink hot water every morning. Live and learn.

Renewing friendship

With my work more or less now outlined, I awaited the arrival of my Maryknoll classmate, Father Joe Thaler, who has been a close friend since the day we both entered the seminary in August of 1967, just after we both graduated from high school. Our birthdays are 3 weeks apart, and so in seniority in the Society we have always been behind one another, and so we also were ordained (me first) on May 21st, 1977. This is a friendship that has spanned nearly a half-century.

Joe has worked for most of his missionary career in Nepal, where he is currently tackling the reconstruction of the nation destroyed by massive earthquakes earlier this year. He was coming to Hong kong for meetings with our Superior General, and so it was fortunate that, after arrival, they dropped Joe at my parish so he could spend a half-day with me before his meetings began.

I was able to show Joe the parish after we had a quick breakfast, and he had a chance for a short nap to catch up on sleep. We walked all through Causeway Bay (the massive shopping district below Happy Valley), had a nice Italian lunch at Times Square (a shopping center) and then he took the taxi across the island to Stanley for his meetings.

We ended up spending most of today (Monday, Nov. 16th) together, as he took me out on a huge hike down the mountain at Stanley to one of the furthest beaches belonging to St. Stephen’s school. It was a nice trek downhill… but then meant we had to also trek uphill. My mistake was not bringing shorts… it was hot, humid and although breezy, it was also a lot of exercise, but it gave us a chance to talk, exchange ideas and views and also see the scenery. Here are just a few photos.

My classmate Joe 1 A smiling missioner after an hour-long hike up and down mountains at Stanley Classmates since 1967 when we entered the seminary together, and ordained together in 1977.My Sherpa

And to our surprise, later that evening we had a Mass and dinner with the Maryknoll Sisters serving in Hong Kong, and joe and I met Maryknoll Sister Marilu Limgenco (from the Philippines) who studied with us from 1972-1974 at Maryknoll, NY. We had a great time at Mass and later at dinner to catch up – lots of stories, lots of laughs.

Classmates reunion

This is shopping???

For those who follow me on Facebook, they know I have had to go down to Causeway Bay area to do shopping. This is a very heavily congested area with 5 or 6 massive indoor malls in 12-14 story buildings.

I was on a mission to find what is called a “mattress topper” for my bed and armed with some addresses from the internet, I made it to 4 of these malls — but Saturday is a day when thousands upon thousands of tourists from Mainland China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Hong Kong itself swarm into the tiny alleyways and side streets leading to these malls with names such as Times Square, Hysan Place, Windsor Place, and Sogo.

In some places the traffic is so dangerous and horrific, the only way to cross streets is by climbing about 30 steps and using the cross-overs — round tunnels about a story or two above the ground that help you cross without being hit by (take your pick) a bus, tram, taxi, mini-bus, bicycle or car…

Overpass for pedestrians over very busy streets

I made it to Sogo, where I had to wait on a queue for 25 minutes just to take the lift (elevator) to the 12th floor (and back). I was amazed not only that people seemed to make it from point A to B without crashing into each other, but their patience waiting on long and exhaustive lines such as at the big APPLE store, filled with thousands of people waiting to see a sales agent.

Our local Apple with 2 floors of massive lines

And there were the crowds on the street too…

Hysan Place mall and crowds every which way Saturday shopping in Causeway Bay

I did manage to find and purchase the mattress topper.

And so another week has passed. I have a better idea of my work now. My superiors her and the other Maryknollers are commenting that I have made an exceptionally quick and painless transition to my new work and ministry. I am settled in, I am getting to meet and come to know my parishioners, and I find that I am “at home,” more quickly than I imagined.

Of course, there are still problems with language. I was told when I met the Cardinal, that I am expected to try to learn some conversational Cantonese (not Mandarin) — this is a 9-tone complicated tongue, which is very difficult to master by people 40 or more years younger than me. Keep prayers coming that I manage to not throw in the towel when facing this almost impossible task.

Well — I have more to write but it is 9:45 p.m. on Monday, and I have 6:45 a.m. Mass tomorrow at St. Paul’s convent, so I better get back to my room and prepare a short homily!

Jesus challenged his disciples to “launch out into the deep,” an invitation to go out beyond boundaries and not be afraid of the dangers or challenges that lay before me. I do hope I can somehow, in some way, continue to be up to the challenge.

A lot of “firsts,” Part 2

Surviving the Autumn Shanghai Hairy Crab festival, I began to become better acquainted with daily life here in “The Fragrant Harbour.” The island of Hong Kong, as shown on its map, is populated mostly on the northern side facing Kowloon and the New Territories. The district names that one has to known (and memorize) to get around on public transport on Hong Kong Island, for instance, are best seen by the Hong Kong Subway Map that runs from west to east along the northern part of the island.

So you come to know at the western end is Kennedy Town and Hong Kong University and then moving east you have in quick succession: Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, Central (where the ferries are located), Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay (my stop), Tin Hau, Fortress Hill, North Point, Quarry Bay, Tai Koo, Sai Wan Ho, Shau Kei Wan, Heng Fa Chuen, and Chai Wan at the easternmost point.

Between the north shore of Hong Kong Island and the opposite sidfe of Kowloon and the New Territories you have Victoria Harbour, a bustling hub of ferries and ships of all sizes, as well as bridges and tunnels crossing over between the two opposite sides.

Aside from Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, you have the enormous Lantau Island, a booming new area where one finds the new Hong Kong International Airport, as well as the Disneyland Resort. It also is the location of a well-known Trappist Monastery where a former Maryknoller who had my same surname, Fr. Ted McCabe, left Maryknoll and entered this strict monastic community for the rest of his life.

Other islands that are part of the Hong Kong Territory, which you will hear about again, are Cheung Chau Island to the west and southwest of Hong Kong Island, as well as Lamma Island, to the immediate south of Hong Kong Island (Maryknoll Father, John Ahearn is pastor on Cheung Chao, and Maryknoll Father Ed Phillips serves the English community that gathers at a convent on Lamma Island).


These geography points will be raised now and again below.

Introduction to Ferries and dinner on Cheung Chao Island

Soon after my arrival, the pastor on Chueng Chao island, Father John Ahearn (native of Brooklyn, ordained when his family lived on Long Island, and who was in both Maryknoll College [Glen Ellyn, IL] and Maryknoll School of Theology with me) decided to host a small get-together of Maryknollers of our age group. Fortunately, another younger Maryknoller, Fr. Tim Kilkelly, was in Hong Kong after spending a few weeks traveling around the Mainland (which always means… China), where he coordinates priests and religious who study in the US under Maryknoll’s auspices. So we decided to all meet around 4:00 p.m. at Pier 5 at the Central District to take the ferry to Cheung Chao.

I spoke with people here at the parish, and they told me that I would not need to leave until 3 p.m., but they forgot — I had little (or no?) idea how to get a taxi. I finally managed to figure it out, noting that Hong Kong people here in my side of town, generally congregate in lines at specified taxi stands. I found such a line right behind the Times Square shopping mall… a LONG line, but thankfully, a line that moved under the watchful eye of a Taxi Guard who made sure no one cut the line.

I had already downloaded the TAXI-for-FOREIGNERS app for my phone where you can key in a central point or address in English, push a button, and viola’ — your destination pops up in Chinese characters and with a helpful Google map for your taxi driver. Although the taxis are generally small vehicles and somewhat old, they are efficient, they give receipts, and you are not expected to tip (although you can round it out for the driver if you wish), and trips from one end to the other of the island only cost about $12.

Once I made it safely to the ferries and was dropped exactly in front of Pier 5 which is for ferries to Cheung Chao island, I was early and I had a chance to snap a few photos of both the ferries, and across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon.

Kowloon skyline Facing Kowloon across Victoria Harbour Ferry in a slip, facing Kowloon

By 4:00 p.m. both Frs. Tim and John had arrived and we boarded the ferry, with me getting to use my very special “Elder” Octopus card (for those over 65, granting very cheap access to most transport). The ferry took about 45 min and was pleasant and breezy seeing the northwest side of Hong Kong, then making our way around the western side of the island to the West Lamma Channel and on southwest to Cheung Chao island. Tim and John graciously posed for a photo.

Fathers Tim Kilkelly and John McAuley on ferry to Cheung Chao

From the harbor at Cheung Chow it was a nice walk of about 10-12 minutes from the harbor to Our Lady of Fatima Parish. We passed an old tree that has many sacred emblems on it as it was a place where Chinese had been hung and killed by Japanese invaders during WWII, and continues to be held as a sacred sight, so it had Buddhist prayer cloths and other items hung in the enormous gnarled branches.

We also came upon a new item to Cheung Chao – “US and European style Hotels,” meaning B&B’s. As the island has cheap hotels, nice local places to eat, and a nice beach, and the ferry is also pretty reasonable, foreigners as well as locals like to visit the place for a day or a few days.

As we turned on Church Street, at the end of which is the parish, we passed this beautiful Chinese gate opening out to the calm sea.

Ceremonial gate facing the beach Cheung Chao

All in all it was a great night to just sit and relax, share some drinks, some “tapas” (Fr. John Ahearn’s famous style of feeding guests… and it works as you eat a little of this, a little of that, and can stop whenever you want). By 8:15 p.m. or so we headed back to the ferry and back across the channel to Central Harbour, and had a great welcome (despite the misty evening) of Hong Kong by night.

View of harbor area east of Central ferries Skyline of the Central Harbor

I made excellent time by cab back to the rectory and even got in before they lock up the place (10:00 p.m.).

Getting introduced to the parish schedule

Throughout this first week, a big challenge has been to gradually meet the people with whom I will be working and who I will serve. We are blessed with Mrs. Rosa Fong, the parish manager and the one who makes this whole physical plant work so smoothly. No matter what obstacles I come up against, Rosa can somehow get me out of them. It was Rosa who had everything organized for my arrival (recalling that photo posted earlier on what she had arranged on my desk when I moved in a week ago)…

On arrival all this information

This past week she has undertaken seeking out, ordering or procuring odds and ends I need for either my room or office. Noticing my alb that I brought from the States needed some hemming and alterations, she had it done by our amah in 3 days. Some low-lit lamps for my overly bright room arrive this weekend; my new bedding is ordered, new sheets and towels have arrived, my over-sized room desk is back at the carpenters being cut to size, I have a temporary phone and cell phone number (the phone belongs to Rosa’s son away in the UK for college, as my Samsung does not have the ability to “hold” a Hong Kong SIM card, and since without my ID card I am unable to purchase a phone here… more on that next week), my e-mail address for the diocese is set (, I have an Octopus card (for the honored and revered elderly!), and my office is tastefully decorated.

My liaison with the English community is another woman, Mrs. Angela Leung, who volunteers her free time (she has a very prestigious full-time job in an international company). Angela keeps me on my toes with schedules, and by Saturday had me meeting all the women volunteers who teach the children’s CCD (religious education) classes on Saturday mornings from 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. I then also met all of the students in two groups, the lower grades and then the upper grades (all grammar school aged, and a real mix of Chines, English, Filipino, and all combinations of these). Many sets of twins are in the classes (the teachers told me, NO, it is not because of the water, but the result of fertilization methods for parents having difficulty conceiving).

Meeting the kids was fun but also I met a few cultural challenges. Most have clearly Chinese or English (or Flemish, or Irish or whatever) names, but one boy came up and begged me NOT to call out his surname. I was a bit stunned, but one of the teachers nodded to me… and so I dropped calling surnames for his entire class. Other than that, and having the kids correct my bad pronunciation of their names (I had more trouble with the Irish names than with the Chinese ones…go figure?). Each class has from 12-18 students and we have 6 classes. The women teachers are all absolutely fluent in English (as are many in Hong Kong in general), and they run a good program.

Angela and I then tacked our very out-of-date Faith Formation library. I will spend the coming two weeks cleaning out old and out-dated books and begin seeking new materials.

As a side comment here, any of you following my blog who have materials for grade-school catechetics, high school programs and RCIA programs, and have “left-overs,” such materials along with DVD’s for catechetics and spirituality would be most welcome, and mailing things to me is easy (and efficient). Address will be at end of this.

Angela organized a day when I can meet all the Readers of the English communities (aside from the parish here at St. Margaret’s – also known as SMC I am also responsible to 3 other English communities that meet in the boundaries of the parish, and so whatever I do here at SMC is also sent to them.

So my calendar is filling up with with Masses, luncheons, meetings, and I inaugurated a registration today for an adult catechumenate, and happily had two inquiries after Mass already.

I also had time to meet a couple at whose wedding on April 2nd, 2016 I will preside, and we will meet in the coming weeks.

Father John KWAN, the pastor see photo below and photo taken at the “Hairy Crab Festival” above) has been great. Knowing what I face down the road, he is helping me put the breaks on too much work. I will have a position to fill in the diocesan tribunal in the coming week or following week, and I have to begin formal language study in Mandarin sooner than later. I also am expected to be chaplain to a community of Vietnamese and Chinese Sisters in the parish at St. Ann’s Convent (up Caroline Hill Road) every Tuesday morning. So for now, this is more than enough to keep me busy.


What’s in a name?

A big part of inserting oneself into Chinese culture is being given a Chinese name, a name that becomes “official” in all government documents issued once I get the coveted I.D. Card.

From the day I arrived at the parish, the question of what my Chinese name will be has been brought up at meals and in small conversations around the office.

One thing they try to do is incorporate a part of your surname into the first root or character. So we began all sorts of permutations on the “Mc” or “Mac” sound. They have something close to it for the “Mag” in St. Margaret, but discussions ensued between the priests who speak Cantonese (Fathers Kwan and Chau) and those whose mother tongue is Mandarin – the language I will be speaking (Fathers Li and Tan).

At one point, the Cantonese speakers brought out the 3 characters (or 3 combination characters) but when the Mandarin speakers started turning it into the Mandarin pronunciation my name was something along “buyer of chicken parts!” Yes, it is both in the intonation as well as in the use of simple vs. traditional characters.

Finally by dinner Friday night (a meal where we ALL gather, perhaps the one time per week when all 5 of us priests are at the table as well as Sister Bernadette Woo and Deacon Bernard Tang), we were going over some variations and Father Kwan sat next to me and handed me my name.

Final rendition of my Chiense name

Once he did, the others passed it around, and to my relief, both sides (Cantonese and Mandarin) agreed that it was most suitable and sounded right in both languages. The underline in the photo is a line that led to Father Kwan’s signature, making it “official,” and by yesterday afternoon, our office secretary, Mr. Dominic NG  Kit Ming gave me a detailed explanation of my new name, (Father) Joseph Mai Ji Yi.

My name printed out

Or (get ready). Father Joseph Mai (Wheat stalk), Ji Yi, the Righteousness of Christ (a plug for my canon law background). The parishioners will know me now as Father MAI (which is great as my real surname, McCABE, was utterly destroyed in announcements today).

Reflections on my first week

Sitting here at the end of my first full week, I have lots of thoughts going through my mind.

How will I ever be able to learn any Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese)? At least a first step is I can somewhat tell the difference between one or the other listening to people talk. Cantonese is very tonal, while Mandarin has some very difficult gutteral or deep sounds but only half as many tones. It has been recommended that I take seriously learning the way to write and read (and interpret) characters as they are similar to both languages, and at least I could conceivably read signs… So, I know that soon I will face attending classes, something I definitely had not wanted to do after the 6 semesters at The Catholic University of America. But at the same time, my missionary roots impel me to learn to speak, to communicate, and to be able to at least express myself – albeit badly – in the language of the people I serve.

Some friends know how I expressed a certain aversion to Chinese food before arriving. Well, that is way in the past. The meals we are served are generally very tasty, unique, and surprising. There have been many changes to my diet, and they will continue. I rarely (if ever) see a fork these days, and a knife is generally only for cutting fruit at the end of a meal, although certain foods demand some cutting. My skills at using chop sticks (thanks to my parents) are deeply appreciated each day.

I have learned that aside from banquets that serve tea in tiny cups, here at the house no beverage is ever served with lunch or dinner. What substitutes is a soup, which is poured in a small soup bowl and placed at the left at every meal, consumed before, during and after the meal to wash down the food and cleanse the palate. Some of the soups are in a vegetable broth, others in a meat or fish broth (and NONE with even a grain of salt or seasoning… literally scalding hot, bland-tasting water with some bits and pieces boiled in to give color. Most soups are savory, but we occasionally have what could best be called a scalding fruit compote (such as pears and almonds).

Our meals are always fresh, always with varied dishes, and our white rice is steamed with grains such as millet, Quinoa or other healthy things steamed onto the top. A future blog will be dedicated to the cuisine here, a combination of Cantonese, Shanghai and Beijing cuisines in a Hong Kong style.

I have re-learned from both my Tanzania and Russia years to always carry small shopping bags whenever I go for a walk, never knowing if you will find something you need or want. I have a half-dozen bags I brought along from Maryknoll from our Centenary back in 2011 and they are sturdy, roomy and helpful.

Walking is necessary for getting anywhere in Hong Kong, although what the local people call a “distance” for me is just a few minutes. We are 5 minutes or so from a main road where buses head east and west along the north coast, and I am about 10 minutes from the closest subway stop (Causeway Bay). I am learning where to find small buses and trams for other parts of the island and how to use the ferries and the subway to get across the harbour to Kowloon, the New Territories and beyond.

This is a culture fixated on cell phones and APPS — they have APPS for just about everything, and they want to communicate that way (I am hesitant, naturally). So, once I do get the I.D. card and can get a permanent phone and cell number, I will have to you WHATSAPP to communicate as that is how everyone in the parish communicates! I thought our US culture had too many people staring and texting, but we have nothing compared to the Chinese (Hong Kong) culture.

And this being Sunday evening, after a day in meetings, confession, Mass and greeting people after Mass, I see ahead a large challenge bringing alive God’s WORD in this cultural milieu. I looked out this morning again to a completely packed church (people standing at and outside the doors). I found people (like I found in Russia), hanging on the words and repeating them as I gave the homily. I used a device I rarely used in the past, repeating a phrase or thematic few words over and over — and so many came out of church repeating this, others wrote it down. It challenges me to improve, change, edit and adapt more clearly what I am trying to bring out in the Gospel.

As I bring to a close this Part 2 of this week’s installment of the Blog, I end with this photo I took last evening as I came up the hill to the parish after a walk, and people were crowded into the church for the evening Mass. The light on the church sitting in this valley surrounded by gigantic high-rise apartments is the Light of Faith, the Light of Hope, the Light of Christ’s love at the heart of this community. How fortunate Father Mai Ji Yi can now serve here! I just pray I am worthy to serve here.

SMC Saturday evening Mass

A lot of “firsts” Part 1

Having completed a full week in the parish here at St. Margaret’s, looking back it has been a week with many “firsts.”

The first of these came Monday morning as I awaited the movers who would be bringing some 14 boxes of books and personal things that I had shipped, coming the Maryknoll Stanley House on the southeast side of the island to Happy Valley on the northwest part of Hong Kong.

I am posting below a map of Hong Kong Territory as it is located in South China at the Pearl River Basin, followed by maps of the entire Hong Kong area including Kowloon, the New Territories and the Outer Islands, and finally Hong Kong Island proper. This will hopefully give some perspective to directions of North, South, East and West.

Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong, Kowloon, New Territories and outer islands

Hong Kong Island Map

After moving in to the room I have on the 6th floor of the parish center (sharing a full-floor with 4 priests and 2 guest rooms), I spent Sunday evening trying to prepare the office I have on the 5th floor (which serves as the parish offices; each priest has an office as well as our deacon and the religious sister who coordinates faith formation; there are also offices for the parish manager, secretaries and office workers and is a hub of activity from morning to night).

After my guided excursion from the parish to the shopping district in Causeway Bay (about an 8  minute walk), I attempted to go over the routes again on Sunday evening, this time taking the “higher” road, going uphill from the church on Broadwood to Link Road, then heading downhill to Leighton Road that zig-zags below Happy Valley and Caroline Hill that mark our side of the valley, and is the cross street into the shopping district.

When one describes “uphill” in Hong Kong… it is not a description one takes lightly — these are steep and tortuous hills cut into the rocky landscape, although today all you see are gigantic hi-rise apartment complexes, commercial buildings and hotels, each heavily decorated (at night) by bright and colorful lights. Someone described some of my photos of the apartments as “pencil-shaped” and that they are – often with only a few apartments per floor but soaring 25, 30 and even 40 floors from the street.

Apartment adjacent to church at Broadwood and Ventris Roads Ventris Road SMC high rises behind 1

The walk “up” Broadwood to Link proved to be more arduous and difficult than I expected, which might explain so few other pedestrians attempting this route. The best comparison is that point between 6 and 8 minutes of a steeply-inclined Stress Test. I did notice a few walkers out like me, clinging to the sidewalk rail huffing and puffing, and so I did not feel as bad joining them.

One of the difficulties navigating most sidewalks (and roadways) in Hong Kong is the actual lack of space to maneuver — sidewalks are narrow and generally you have pedestrians going both ways – often loaded down with multiple bags – making passing a real feat. People are extraordinarily obedient at cross-walks or corners, marked clearly and with signals that make special noises when it is safe and permissible to cross or to wait. Unfortunately, this being a former British colony or territory, they drive on the left side of the road (as opposed to the US driving on the right side), and they prefer roundabouts that are neither round, nor going about… And so crossing any juncture of roads is a matter of moving fast, skirting people with all sorts of accessories for gouging out an eye, or doubling one over (old people carrying umbrellas even in sunshine are a particularly dangerous species), and often too hurdling over or shimmying around metal obstacles or gates that are there… seemingly… just to hurdle over or shimmy around as otherwise they have no purpose.

Monday morning was my first introduction to the Kindergartens that we operate from the parish. Each day at both 9:00 a.m. and again at 12:30 p.m., a few hundred little children, from 4 through 6 years of age, are dropped off in their clean, pressed uniforms and carrying a green knapsack over their tiny shoulders, trudging up the 2 dozen or so steep stairs to the main floor of the parish center and to their classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Most of them are accompanied either by their parents or by their nannies or guardians. Each group stays for 3 hours (so 9-12 p.m. or 12:30-3:30 p.m.). Despite their numbers and the fact that many are dropped off by car, the teachers have an efficient method to prevent traffic jams.

So, I was happy to see that the movers bringing my boxes from Stanley House to St. Margaret’s arrived AFTER the kids had made it to the building and their assembly. The movers were very efficient, dropping the boxes off on one pallet that could be wheeled on to our elevator that goes from the parking lot (Lower Ground or LG level) to the “G” level, on the same level as the front doors of the church and parish hall, and the on the separate elevator to the priests’ quarters. It took them 5 minutes to unload everything and leave, and I took another hour or so to open and store everything.

By late Monday evening, I had my 5th floor office mostly set up, awaiting some more books and a few objects to give it a “personal” touch.

My office 2 My office 1

Gotta do what you gotta do…

Because of the schedule of our rectory life, the cook or chushi (厨师) has off every Tuesday and the housekeeper or amah ( 阿嬷 ) is off every Thursday. I was busy working on my room and office and decided to take a break and so I walked back downhill to Leighton Road and saw the landmark of US international cuisine, the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. Wanting a quick break from the food in the rectory (described later), I made my way underground to the main hall of the McDonald’s and came across this high-tech haven for young and old, Chinese and foreigner. Rather than step up to a counter and order from the menus items on the wall, here you get it “your way.”

You step up to one of the order kiosks and punch in exactly what you want – how you want it and what you want on it (and you can be as creative as you like). You can pay with your debit card, cash, or using your Octopus Card, a special card something like a combination metro, bus and ferry pass that can also be used as a debit card.

Here is the kiosk,

McDonald's ordering

And here is how my meal was brought to me (you get a disk that lights up when your meal is ready, and the serving staff find you).

McDonalds lunch in Hong Kong

Autumn Festival of Hairy Crabs

One of the great delicacies of Shanghai cuisine in the autumn months is a dish called “Shanghai Hairy Crabs.” Already by Monday afternoon, the parish manager, Mrs. Rosa Fong, had told me that there would be a large outing of all parish personnel on Wednesday for this delicacy.

Delicacy? Hairy Crabs? I have to admit that I began conjuring up reasons to be sick on Wednesday, but nothing seemed to work. So, off I went with some of the parish employees as we made it down the hill and along Wah Nai Chung road – a road that circles around the Happy Valley race course and sports complex. There at the intersection with Leighton Road was the deceptively large Craigengower Cricket Club, a complex of banquet halls of varying sizes all part of the cricket club complex and a members-only place. Thankfully a parishioner or two are members, and one in particular had arranged a private dining hall for us to enjoy the 60 hairy crabs he and his family had flown in from Shanghai for our luncheon.

I ha spent the morning scouring the internet for information about “hairy crabs,” to steel myself for this challenge.

Here is something that explains it better than I could:

We filled 2 large round tables, set nicely in all white linens and with all of the tools needed to make our way through this delicacy: culinary scissors, a very delicate enamel spoon with a tiny head and a pointed shaft for pushing crab out of the legs, ceramic chop sticks, the ubiquitous ceramic soup bowl and spoon, and (thank God) plastic disposable gloves for the mess we were about to begin eating our way through this feast.

But first up we were served two different styles of pork (crackling pork and barbecue pork) as well as a steaming dish of broccoli leaves and stems with ginger and slivered almonds.

Then came the main course: [Father John Kwan, pastor, blesses food and welcomes us; table set and ready to go, presentation of a platter of steamed clams, and Father Kwan shows his prepared hairy crab ready to be spliced and eaten.]

Hairy Crab Festival - welcome from Fr. John KWAN pastor Hairy Crab festival banquet table set Hairy crabs ready for eating The Hairy Crab ready to be spliced

The traditional drink would be a warmed wine and for our festival we had been gifted with two bottles of aged (over 15 years) millet wine, made of millet, lake water and molasses, served very warm over a dried prune in each cup). It was 14% proof and very mild with this delicious meal.

Millet wine with dried plum

Beginnings of Ministry – All Saints Day 2015

Sunday, November 1st (2015) was my first full day serving the community here at St. Margaret’s Church. I have now learned that the familiar name for the church is “St. Margaret’s Church” or SMC as it is also known throughout the diocese.

I will describe the parish and its 90 year history as this journey continues, but here is a recently updated synopsis of the development of the Catholic community in Happy Valley: [].

I moved into the rectory here at the parish early Saturday morning, October 31st. I gathered the 3 suitcases I brought with me, loaded them into a cab, and began the 30-45 minute journey from the southeast side of Hong Kong (Stanley Bay) to the northern side of the island near Causeway Bay and Victoria Park. I have learned now that when attempting to travel by taxi (or bus) you carry a small printed copy in Chinese of your destination, which helps drivers get you to the destination. This is the entry to parish.

SMC entryway at 2A Broadway

The entry to the parish is a left turn on Broadwood Road off Wong Nai Chung Road that runs parallel to the famous Happy Valley Racecourse that marks pretty much the flat base of the valley.

Once I arrived, I made my way to the 6th floor of the parish center which is the residence of the priests. Here is my room on arrival.

SMC arriving at my new quarters

It took only an hour to empty and store away everything I carried with me, thanks in large part to so many storage spaces throughout the room. In the coming days I will introduce you to the four priests with whom I live, starting with the pastor, Father John B. KWAN Kit-tong, in photo below.

Fr. John B. KWAN Kit-tong 1

His assistants are Father Edward CHAU King-fun and Father Joseph TAN Leitao, S.V.D., and in residence is Father Francis LI Yu-ming, an elderly, retired priest from the Mainland.

Other staff who will be introduced are our Deacon Bernard TANG, Sister Bernadette WOO, S.P.B., and many many staff whose names I will have to memorize soon, but most important would be Mrs. Rosa FONG, who prepared many documents for me on arrival, including the key to my room and 5th floor office, my “elder” Octopus Travel Card (yes, here in China they know how to treat elders!!!), a phone card, and maps for me to get familiar with the neighborhood).

SMC documents prepared for me

My primary contact to the English community is Mrs. Angela LEUNG, who spent a few hours with me on Saturday going through my responsibilities, and filling me in on the extensive work done by my predecessor here, Father Dennis J. Hanly, M.M., who passed away on October 26, 2014, after serving the English community here for almost a decade.The first two photos of Fr. Hanly were taken only a few months before his death, and I attached a copy of the memorial book from the parish.

Fr Dennis Hanly w parents and children

Fr Dennis Hanly June 2014

Fr Dennis Hanly memorial

Since his passing, the pastor and parishioners have been begging the bishop (Cardinal John TONG) to find a replacement. Fortunately, in the interim, Father Peter Barry, M.M. substituted by making the long commute from Stanley House to Happy Valley each weekend until I arrived. Here is Fr. Barry at a recent First Communion.

SMC FHC 2015 in Chapel

Another name that will come up is Dominic NG Kit Ming, who registers all sacraments in the parish (and handles the very busy baptism, marriage and funeral schedules); and then there will be many names from among the English community, once I can remember them all!

November 1st – All Saints


This was a great way to begin my work and ministry here in the parish. Since I arrived only a few days ago, and since Father Barry had no real opportunity to say “goodbye” to the community where he served for the last year after Father Hanly’s death, I suggested that he celebrate the Mass, and I would preach, to which he readily agreed.

I woke early, and after coffee from my new Nespresso machine (buying this in Sogo, a major department store, is a chapter in itself!), I made my way to my office on the 5th floor of the parish center.

The parish center, after the church itself, is the heart of the parish, with 5 floors of meeting rooms, a large chapel, classrooms, seminar rooms, offices and various ministries. It is very busy from 7:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m. most days. All of the priests have offices, and mine is located on the 5th floor together with many of the catechists and religious education people.

I made some final changes to my homily and then printed it off just as Father Barry arrived. On the way over to the church, I stopped on the 2nd floor to meet the English-community choir and then went to the confessional as the 11:00 a.m. Mass (in Cantonese) was ending so that I could hear confessions in English.

The church itself is very large (the largest church in which I have served in mission work), and the parish itself just marked its 90th anniversary. Here are photos of the exterior and interior.

St Margaret Mary, Happy Valley 1

St. Margaret Mary Church Happy Valley HK

St. Margaret Mary interior 1

When I came out from the confessional, I was surprised to see the church nearly full. I made my way to the sacristy, vested, met the sacristans, readers, eucharistic ministers and altar servers. This last group has a few dozen members and the acolytes are assigned in a rotation to serve at all the Masses (whether in Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Japanese or Spanish).

SMC altar servers 1

When we processed in, the sound of the choir and the singing of the congregation came as a pleasant surprise – and more so as the church at this point was completely full and people were standing all around the back and the doors. It was a beautiful way to begin my ministry. I preached on sainthood and how we are all called to be saints and help each other to sainthood in our daily life. I had to work hard to remove or edit any “Americanisms” I would have used while I was in the US for the last 7 years — so to my many friends in Hicksville and Silver Spring, this cut a good 5 minutes from the homily!

After Mass I met many people, including one couple (he from Belgium and she from Hong Kong) at whose wedding I am already scheduled to preside on April 2nd, 2016. The community is a mix; Chinese, Filipino, French, English (Australians, UK, Irish, Canadian and Indian were accents I heard), and others. The Filipinos stood out by their way of greeting a priest (placing the back of my outstretched hand to their forehead and always asking for a special blessing). It was good to see both a mixture of men and women, young and old.

I prayed throughout the Mass on this All Saints Day that somehow, in some way I can shepherd this new flock of mine to be saints, and pray too that they can help me on my own journey to holiness in serving them.