CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 March 2017

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Christmas in the city

HONG KONG (SE): “Christmas is about light,” Father Jay Flandez, the chaplain to the Filipino migrant community in Hong Kong, said as he stood before some 6,000 to 7,000 people shoehorned into Chater Garden for Christmas Eve Mass in the dark of the night on December 24.

“We have seen a great light,” Father Flandez continued from the floodlit cauldron of the makeshift altar, which stood in stark contrast to the twinkling parols that punctuated the decorative glow caste from the Cheung Kong Centre, the soft fluorescence of the Court of Final Appeal and the silhouetted chimney reaching into the night sky of the Bank of China.

“The light is the Lord’s greatest gift to us,” Father Flandez continued, adding that in The Philippines the Mass on Christmas Eve is known across the country as the Misa de Aguinaldo (The Mass of the Gift).

He said, “God gave his only son to us because he loves us so much. It is a definitive statement to each and every person in the world that they are loveable.”

He added that it means each one of us is important in the eyes of the Lord and it is a challenge to us all to see the importance of each and every person who walks with us upon this earth.

“Especially here in Hong Kong, we have to support each other as migrants,” he stressed.

The scene was set for the celebration of the spirit of Christmas with a community carol singing session led by the El Shaddai Choir prior to the Mass, leaving the vibrant gathering prepared to welcome Divine Word Missionaries, Father Flandez and Father Helmut Peter, together with Salesian Father Romero Mendoza to the altar, along with a deacon, Reverend Francis Mahilum, from the Scheutte Mission Society.

The child, whose birth is celebrated in the Christian world on Christmas Day, was presented to the gathering, as all present welcomed the miracle of goodness coming amongst the suffering, pain and evil of this world with the words sung by the angels at the moment that Jesus was born, Glory be to God.

In his introduction to the Mass, Melvin Chavez, announced that 1044 Metro Plus Radio was taking a live broadcast, as well as live streaming proceedings for those who were unable to leave their homes.

He invited the listening audience to participate in so far as the separation of distance would allow by joining in the prayers and singing along with the music.

Father Flandez reminded people that Christmas is also a time to express our gratitude for the gifts that we have received, as it is really a celebration of the greatest gift of all, the saviour born in Bethlehem.

He called on the gathering to remember that each and every one is a gift to others, so it is important to remember our relationships during the festive season.

“Our relationship with our family is a gift. Life too is a gift,” he continued, “and each one of us is a gift to our family, as well as our community and society, and as a gift, we bring the gift of the grace of the Lord to others.”

In a first for the Filipino community in Hong Kong, which makes up the greater proportion of the congregation at English Masses in the diocese of a Sunday, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, sent a personalised Christmas greeting, which was played on the big screen.

Cardinal Tong reminded the gathering that Mary too was a migrant and that she was a long way from home when she gave birth to the son of God.

“You too are migrants and like Mary, you too carry the presence of Christ as a gift to the people of this city,” Cardinal Tong said in wishing the migrant community a blessed Christmas celebration.

Father Flandez thanked the government of Hong Kong for allowing the community to use the public space for its Christmas celebration, as well as the companies that gave their support in making the evening Mass possible and those who prepared the gardens for the event.

He also thanked the various groups that played their part in the presentation of the liturgy and the Consulate General for the constant support it gives to the work of the chaplaincy.

The consul general to Hong Kong, Bernardita Catalla, ended the evening with a Christmas greeting.

The Christmas spirit did indeed overflow into the city streets, as the tears of 2016 dried in the joy of the welcome for the saviour who came among us. And the world did begin to dance in the joy of Christmas in the city.

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