CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Bon voyage to warrior for the underdog

HONG KONG (SE): As the Maryknoll coordinator, Father John Ahearn, farewelled the iconic society house in Stanley, he also wished 86-year-old Father Thomas Peyton well in retirement, as he finally packs his bags to leave Hong Kong after 35 years working in the territory.

A man of many faces, Father Peyton has been involved in a wide variety of ministries. His face is well known in the prisons, hospitals, streets, countryside and among the isolated and deprived communities both in the special administrative region and on the mainland.

The citation for his 2012 Humanity Award from the Hong Kong Red Cross and Radio Television Hong Kong says that he gave the first priority of his work to those who face prejudice, have been abandoned by society or are seen only as a burden.

“These include prisoners, people suffering from mental illness or with mental disabilities, street sleepers, the elderly (people) and the impoverished,” it points out.

He was a frequent visitor to those suffering from Hansen’s Disease in remote rural areas.

The citation says, “Father Peyton believes that those who feel loved through others’ assistance will help other needy people. Little by little, the world will become a better place.”

He saw his parish ministry as central to his life and work, saying, “A parish is a point to serve the community. When my parishioners learn about my work, they will join me.”

He believed in being in the streets and among the people, doing local visitation to learn about people’s needs. He recruited volunteers to assist parents of children with special needs, as well as campaigning for wheelchair ramps in the city streets.

In later days, as age slowed his movements, he turned his attention to the aging communities in Ngau Tau Kok, visiting those living alone and at least bringing them a bit of company.

But he was never far from the action. In 2010, as the spiritual director of the Justice and Peace Commission, he was in the streets of Central petitioning for a reasonable level in the much criticised minimum wage.

He told the gathering, “A reasonable rate is not just a matter of economy, but a human rights issue.”

But it was in the prisons that he was most at home. He said that being separated from family and lacking support, inmates can easily succumb to depression and lose their sense of hope.

He would walk the corridors making himself available to anyone who wished to talk. The Red Cross citation says, “His friendship, passion and perseverance for helping others have touched many prisoners, who have later been rehabilitated into society and started a new life.”

But he never forgot his own family at Maryknoll and Father Gerry Hammond, the vice-superior of the Maryknoll Asian Region, presented him with a gift, while thanking him for the great contribution that he has made to the spirit of the society during his years in Hong Kong.

Father Peyton will retire in his native United States of America, but with his remaining energy he still manages a sly grin, indicating that retirement for him may be a fairly active affair.

Bon voyage Father Peyton, a great warrior for the underdog. The Sunday Examiner salutes you!

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