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At-home World Youth Day wraps up on the shores of Victoria Harbour

HONG KONG (SE): A week of challenging experiences and a new look at living faith in modern society ended on the late afternoon on July 28 with a Mass to mark the end of Hong Kong’s at-home World Youth Day celebrated in the balmy breezes on the shores of Victoria Harbour.

Seven hundred or so people, including the just over 300 who had registered for the one-week experience sat on the steps of the Cultural Centre Piazza in Tsimshatsui as the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, celebrated Mass to the backdrop of a sun-drenched harbour and a blue sky, dotted with ominous-looking, black clouds.

A group of 65 young Catholic people from mainland China, who had been in Hong Kong for a programme of their own, also took part in the Mass, as well as joining other public activities that were featured in the one-week young people’s event.

It was the culmination of an experience that began around six months ago for those taking part in the programme. A series of weekend gatherings were designed by the Diocesan Youth Commission in order to prepare them for the culminating week.

The director of the commission, Father Paul Kam Po-wai, told the Sunday Examiner, “World Youth Day is intended to be for all young Catholic people, not just those who can afford, or spare the time, to travel across the world for the official event. It makes sense to have a home-based programme.”

The official week kicked off with an opening Mass held at St. Margaret’s in Happy Valley on July 23, timed to coincide with the opening Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in Brazil.

During the following few days, delegates took part in a series of activities designed to roughly keep tune with the pattern of the Rio de Janeiro event.

A group leader during the week, Carmen Au-Yeung Ching, said that the surprise element introduced into the activities helped to instill a lot of spontaneity into the activities.

“For some things we did not know what we were going to do or where we were going until about five minutes before we boarded the bus,” she explained. “Consequently, we had to rely on our wits and instincts in following the guidelines.”

The youngest group leader of the week, Mika Gallardo, admitted that she was a little bit daunted at taking on responsibility for a group.

She said, “I was worried that I might not be able to connect with the group as they were mostly older than I was. But as time went on, I realised that age is not the point.”

In a challenge to get out of their comfort zones, two sessions called Leave Our Land and Yes I Can asked participants to take up the challenge of Pope Francis to get out into the streets and witness to the faith, as well as getting to know and understand the different environments people live in. 

The groups were given handout packages and asked to engage passersby, chat with them and give them the handout if they wanted it.

“The reactions of people were interesting,” Au-Yeung reflected. “Some took the handout happily and passed on quickly, some just ignored us and others actually stopped and chatted for a while.”

She said that she got comments like, “I did not think that Catholics did things like this.”

Some said that their biggest fear was that people would be rude or get angry, but were relieved that this did not happen.

There were also workshops in woodwork and other crafts that most had never done before.

Sessions on first aid, media, dance and music gave people a chance to realise that there are many ways in which they can contribute to the common good and serve their neighbour—or many situations in which you can be missionary.

“It also showed us that in fact we can do many different sorts of things,” Au-Yueng reflected.

In an art session, participants designed a giant cloth, which was used to cover the altar for the final Mass on the shores of the harbour.

A series of circles decorated in many colours and hues overlap, reflecting communities of people which all have their own identity, but when they interact transform each other.

Au-Yeung said that she was really taken by a morning at the Franciscan house in Kowloon Tong. “It was a whole revelation to me in how to look at the bible,” she said. “It gave me a new way to listen. It was not just passive listening, but being active in the manner in which I listen. I learned so much.”

The highlight of the week was a three-day live-in camp at Cheung Chau, where participants took part in a dramatised way of the cross and were then encouraged to reflect on what they thought God wanted to say to them during the various activities and prayer sessions.

Au-Yeung described the most touching moment of the week for her as being the way of the cross, explaining that Jesus fell right in front of her and just seeing it happen so close up left a whole range of emotions swirling through her.

While she admitted that it is still too early to really understand the full impact the week had on her, she said that it was an intense experience in doing and learning new things, and she thinks it will take a while to settle.

A veteran of World Youth Day Madrid, Au-Yueng recalled that she came back from that experience with a much deeper appreciation of the Eucharist.

“This came home to me when I spent a quiet hour of adoration at Cheung Chau. I found that it helped things to come together for me,” she noted.

The final Mass ended in a volley of singing and cheering as participants in the one-week at-home World Youth Day expressed their joy of being together with the Lord in an atmosphere not dampened by the takeover of the blue sky by dark, watery-black-looking clouds.

In the wash up, organisers were given around 45 minutes grace before the drenching began.


But Au-Yeung reflected that the atmosphere at the Mass really was that of a World Youth Day. “I know this from Madrid,” she said, “and we were really able to express at the Mass what we had experienced during our Youth Day.”