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: [http://smc.catholic.org.hk/en/%E5%A0%82%E5%8D%80%E6%AD%B7%E5%8F%B2%E7%B0%A1%E4%BB%8B%E5%8F%8A%E5%B0%8E%E8%B3%9E/].
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.