CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 10 November 2018

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Catholic population grows faster than Mass attendance

HONG KONG (SE): The number of Catholics in Hong Kong has passed the 590,000 mark, an increase of some 5,000 over 2015, the latest statistics released by the Hong Kong Catholic Church Directory 2017 published in January this year indicate.

The latest calculation by the diocese shows that as at August 2016, there were around 591,000 Catholics in Hong Kong. Among them 389,000 local residents are listed.

Among temporary Catholic residents, Filipinos form by far the majority. The diocese estimates there were 166,000 Filipino Catholics in Hong Kong in addition to 36,000 from other nationalities.

The estimate for Filipinos seems low, as the average of Catholics in The Philippines is 82 per cent and there are some 220,000 to 230,000 living in Hong Kong, but 189,000 of them are migrant workers, and on average population figures it should mean there are at least 171,000 among migrants alone.

But since some Filipinos are permanent residents and even born here, they may have been included in the 389,000 local resident list.

The estimated figures for temporary residents were based upon the information supplied by the government and the percentage of Catholic population by country provided by the www.catholic-hierarchy website.

A total of 6,633 people were baptised in 2016. In each of the past six years, more than 6,000 people have been baptised.

Of the over 6,000 newly-baptised every year, adults account for around 50 per cent. 

Victoria Au Bing-sum, the secretary of the Central Council of Catholic Laity, told the Kung Kao Po that the steady growth in the number of newly-baptised people far outstrips the growth in Sunday Mass attendance.

Au said this needs to be looked at and suggests a strengthening of personal spiritual formation and that the catechists pave the way by encouraging people to join parish groups during their catechumenate.

She said that she has heard that gatherings are held in some parishes for the newly-baptised every month, which their non-Catholic friends or relatives are invited to join, which she believes is a good way of stressing to the newly-baptised the importance of self-formation in building up the Church.

Father Simon Li Chi-yuen, from St. Benedict’s in Shatin, said the growing number of Catholics is not represented in the growth of the parishioner population. He believes parishes need to strengthen their formation work to reduce leakage.

Father Li explained that although the number of Catholics has increased every year, the number of priests has remained more or less the same.

Statistics show there were 288 priests, 469 sisters and 29 deacons as at August 2016, as well as 58 brothers, 24 seminarians and 28 novices.

There were also 58 brothers, 24 seminarians and 28 novices.

The number of catechumens stood at 10,464 and they were being supported by 1,558 catechists. At present there are 52 parishes and 98 places for religious services.

Father Li said that on average at present, one priest has to take care of over 1,300 people, but this figure does not show the actual pastoral situation, as many parishioners seem to have been lost.

He quoted a survey done by the Diocesan Catechetical Centre in 2014 which shows that only 40 per cent of the newly-baptised attended Mass every Sunday.

He added that in his parish more newly-baptised people have been faithful to Sunday Mass since he began strongly encouraging the practice during the catechumenate.

Although the number of priests is stable, Father Li said their average age has increased. Also the number who have passed away is higher than the number ordained, highlighting the lack of vocations.

Sister Margarita Chan Mei-yung, the secretary of the Diocesan Vocation Commission, said that even if there was a sudden influx, the current the small number of seminarians and novices shows that there will be a shortage of religious, as their formation period is quite long.

She is concerned that smaller religious institutes are facing a double challenge, because of both ageing and lack of new recruits.

Sister Chan described the unique role of religious as something that the laity cannot just move into, as they can only assist religious in solving some practical problems.

She said the Church is establishing a vocation culture in which everyone is encouraged to promote vocations and more than 2,000 people have joined a prayer for vocation campaign.

During Vocations Month, which is marked in May, special Masses will be held on Sundays so that more people will have an opportunity to learn about the issue.

On the marriage front, 1,100 couples tied the knot in the diocese and 80 per cent were of mixed religion.

Leung Tsz-ling, a social worker at the Hong Kong Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, believes that the rising number of mixed marriages has highlighted the need for post-marriage formation.

She suggested that it would be good if post-marriage formation could be held in parishes in a relatively relaxed way in order to encourage the non-Catholic partner to come along as well.

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