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A parish built on a long faith history
HONG KONG (SE): Parishioners overflowed the parish church at Our Lady of Lourdes in Chi Fu to welcome Bishop John Tong Hon to the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their parish on February 11.
Concelebrating with the parish priest, Father Stephen Ip Ting-kwok, as well as Father Alex Méndez, who celebrates Masses at the parish, together with other guest priests, Bishop Tong pointed out that although it is just 30 years since the parish was established, the faith community in the area has a much longer and extremely rich history of Catholicism.
The establishment of a sanatorium, Bethany House, by the Paris Foreign Mission Society in the 1870s saw the beginnings of a fledgling community among the people who worked to look after the ailing priests it housed, and later were employed at the printing press and other industries that the French missionaries established nearby.
Bishop Tong explained that by 1896 there were sufficient people to warrant the building of a church in Taikaolau. Numbers had outgrown the small building by the 1930s and a larger one was erected on another property near the current location in 1938.
It bore the name of Our Lady of Lourdes and became a place of pilgrimage for visitors coming to Hong Kong from China and was a regular place of worship until the first Mass was celebrated in the current church on Christmas Eve in 1982.
The bishop pointed out that the people in the area have faced many challenges and lived through great tragedies, naming the 1894 plague and the typhoons of 1906 and 1937, as well as the Japanese Occupation of World War II, as being extremely difficult times.
He added that events in China also had a great impact on Hong Kong, especially the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China in 1911, the eight years of war with Japan and the accession of Mao Zedong to power in 1949, which resulted in millions of refugees flooding across the border into the former British colony.
However, he said that the resilience of the people enabled them not just to live through these testing times, but to grow in faith and courage as well.
“Ordinary men and women with good spirituality, people able to respond to the challenges, because they believed God has a plan for history, made the parish what it is today,” Bishop Tong said.
He said that of the many good priests who contributed to the development of the faith community in the area, for him, one name stands out, Father René Chevalier, who served during the difficult times from 1952 to 1971.
He reminisced that a simple act of service in driving a pregnant woman to hospital saw the birth of a young boy she named Dominic, who today is Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, one of the vicars general of the diocese and to date, the only priest to come out of the parish.
To celebrate its anniversary, the parish has installed a mosaic of Our Lady of Lourdes on a wall that is visible to the many students who pass in and out of the school each day, as well as the large number of people who move up and down the street.
Designed by a team of parishioners headed by Daisy Kan, who describes herself as a student of art in her retirement, the tiles were imported from and manufactured in Italy and the scene of the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary is clearly visible from a distance.
“I hope that it will inspire some talk and maybe wonder among the students and the people who see it,” Kan told the Sunday Examiner. “And I hope and pray, it may prompt questions for some that lead them to faith.”
Kan says that especially in this Year of the Laity she sees it as an initiative of lay people to thank past priests, who have served in the parish, for their care and cooperation.
“It also invites unity and cooperation among people, so they may care for one another,” Kan said, adding, “It also celebrates the pilgrimages of faith that Our Lady has inspired.”
Bishop Tong quoted Confucius as saying that when a person is 30-years-old they can be considered to be mature and able to carry responsibility.
“The same can be said of a parish,” he commented, as he invited the people to put their energy behind the work of inviting more people into the Church.
He also pinpointed the need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the pastoral care of non-Chinese-speaking Catholics, who make up one-third of the Mass-going population on Sundays.
“Not just in providing the Mass and the sacraments,” he said, but also by making parish facilities available to them in the hospitable manner of the French priests in the past, so they may grow in the love of God, as a community
He also stressed the role of Hong Kong as a bridge Church with China as being a priority challenge for all members of the diocese, so the rift between people may be healed and factions reconciled.
He said that Hong Kong has a lot to offer in terms of helping to provide good formation and he encouraged people to pray for Catholics on the mainland in this time of their need.
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