CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Lay missionary commissioned from Happy Valley parish

HONG KONG (SE): “There is no room for self-centredness in local Churches,” Father John Kwan Kit-tong, said at a reception for the commissioning of Stephania Ling Kwan-wai as a lay missionary with the Hong Kong Lay Missionary Association, at a Mass in St. Margaret’s parish, Happy Valley, on December 18.

Saying that it is important to remember that every local Church belongs to the universal Church and must be conscious of each other’s needs, Father Kwan presented Ling with a cheque from the parish, representing the support role the parishioners have agreed to play during her three-year commitment to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolcutta, India.

Ling said that she anticipates leaving Hong Kong in early January for India, as soon as she can finalise visa and other pre-departure arrangements.

Ling said that her road to lay mission has been a long and windy one. Working in public relations and advertising for many years, she said that the tight schedules and work pressure left her kind of numb to what was happening around her.

“Even Nine/Eleven (2001) did not touch me,” she told the Chinese-language Catholic weekly, the Kung Kao Po. “This numbness shocked me and prompted me to look at myself again.”

She said that as a Catholic, she decided to go back to her roots, so she joined with a group of people preparing for baptism, just to begin at the beginning. She later went on to complete a master’s degree in religious studies at the Centre for Catholic Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

However, the real change came when she left her job and started working as an education officer with an aid group as the director of communications. She explained that aid organisations live on their good images, and creating and sustaining this depends on thinking logically and creativity.

“However, it is different from faith sharing,” she explained. “Although I had travelled to do promotional programmes on poverty alleviation to India and Sri Lanka, it was not until November last year when I went as a volunteer to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Kolcutta that I found out what that really means.

“Through the poor, the sisters reflect the image of Jesus,” she explained. “They bear witness to Jesus, without showing off their own personal virtue.”

However, she explained that it was the experience of a long retreat at the Xavier Retreat House in Cheung Chau that gave her confidence in the missionary vocation she could feel growing within her heart.

She said that she had become the secretary of the Hong Kong branch of the World Community for Christian Meditation, something which she said she found came naturally to her, and really helped her to get her view of herself into focus.

She calls meditation a treasure that is well worth digging into.

At the commissioning Mass, Bishop John Tong Hon spoke of the silence that enshrouded the Blessed Virgin Mary as she heard God’s call to her vocation. He said that silence can help people to listen to the call of God and to respond with courage.

The bishop said that contemplating the message of God in the silence helped her to accept the call. He added that the transformation that Ling found in herself happened in a similar manner.

Bishop Tong recalled the late Father Sean Burke, who had been behind the meditation movement in Hong Kong, as well as being socially active in his work for the support of people of advanced age, those with special needs and people in prison.

Ling said that she found many things difficult when she was staying in India, but the hardest to get a handle on was the huge gap between rich and poor.

“The poor are penniless and homeless. They live in the streets, where babies grow up, adults beg and people die,” she said. “And the slums stink.”

In contrast, she explained how the rich occupy spacious homes and fly in helicopters, saying that she believes this contrast reflects a need for governments and other organisations to invest in the poor.

She also said that she believes that there is a need for a greater respect for life, explaining that for the poor people, children are an asset, part of the resources of the family, and there should be more respect for the right to life.

“Looking outside of Hong Kong gives more room for thinking broadly. It is also easier for things to touch your heart,” Ling said. 

She explained that the lay mission association in Hong Kong encourages people to visit Churches in other countries, as it can help faith to develop and mature.

The association currently has three people serving overseas, one in Kenya, one in Cambodia and the third in Thailand.

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