CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hong Kong prisoners send greetings to pope

HONG KONG (SE): A familiar figure around the prisons of Hong Kong, Reverend Edwin Ng Wing-hung was in Rome at the end of May for a conference on the permanent diaconate and had the honour of a private audience with Pope Francis.

Father Pat Colgan, from the Columban central administration and a Spanish speaker, does voluntary work with the prison ministry. He took advantage of the opportunity and invited men in the prisons that he spends time with to write letters to Pope Francis.

As the director of the prison chaplaincy team in Hong Kong, Reverend Ng was delighted to pass the letters onto the pope. Most of them were written Spanish and Father Colgan compared their words with the deeply moving things that a child may utter to a loving father.

Reverend Ng said that when Pope Francis saw the letter that he had placed on top of the pile featuring a sketch of the Praying Hands drawn by prisoners at Shek Pik Correctional Institution alongside their multi-lingual greetings, he smiled, saying, “God bless them.”

Father Colgan said that almost all of the men who wrote to Pope Francis have been sentenced for smuggling drugs. They had mostly been arrested at Chek Lap Kok Airport or when handing over their illicit cargo to handlers in Hong Kong.

For them, the promise of some monetary return for the risk they were taking never eventuated.

One of the men wrote, “Please receive our warmest greetings, not only to yourself, but to the whole Catholic Church in the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Through this card, we would like you to know the situation in which we are living. It is a cry for help and thus we have allowed our hearts to speak to you… most of us Latinos have no other language than Spanish and our inability to speak English or Cantonese compounds our difficulites.

“We hope that in spite of the distance from our countries, that we will not be forgotten, but that there may somehow be a way found—even, yes, knowing we need to pay for our crimes—that the length of our suffering exile here might be shortened.

“May the creator of all, the king of love and peace, give us the faith and the confidence that we need.”

Another letter from a Nigerian man in Stanley Prison reads, “Dearest Father, how are you? How are all the families in Vatican City? We are all happy and glad to know of your planned visit to China. We want to remind you that Hong Kong is part of China and we, your children in prison, will be looking forward to see you!”

A third one from a Colombian at Shek Pik says, “We went on a dangerous and unknown journey, which has now given us an infinity of problems and put in peril our own lives and those of our families.

“For the great majority of us (drug mules), we have ended up in prison and truly realise our great mistake. We and our families are the big losers, while the nets of the drug traffickers remain unbroken and they carry on freely with their business.”

Reverend Ng asks that especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy we may be bearers of good news to all with whom Christ identified himself so closely.

Father Colgan cited the words of Matthew’s gospel as saying, “I was sick and you visited me, in prison—you came to see me…” (25: 31-46) to describe the vocation of the prison ministry.

The prison ministry in Hong Kong has many volunteers, who between them can speak several languages, and a regular team conducts visitation in the prisons.

Reverend Ng has been responsible for the introduction of a variety of pastoral programmes to help prisoners to improve their lot and prepare for life on the outside after their release.

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