Rev. Joseph V. McCabe, M.M.
St. Margaret’s Church
2A, Broadwood Road
Happy Valley, HONG KONG
“Today in the town of David,
a Savior has been born to you.;
He is Christ, the Lord!” Lk. 2: 11
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.
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.
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.
Blessing water and baptizing Frankie above, and Arthur below and their group and confirmation photos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.