CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Finding faith in the service of the oppressed

HONG KONG (UCAN): Ho Hei-wah followed a long and winding road from his wealthy upbringing to being one of Hong Kong’s most dedicated social advocates and ultimately fund his way to the baptismal font last Easter.

Ho said, “It is not the end, but the beginning of a new life, in which I can not only work for people, but also spread the gospel among them and help more people to know God.”

Now in his 50s, Ho remains as committed as ever to his 30-year campaign for social justice. However, he explains that during his search for faith the anger inside his heart diminished.

“It gives me the patience to listen to people as they air their grievances and to truly understand that all humans are equal,” he explained.

Ho was born into an affluent family. His father was a dealer in precious stones. But it was the experience of working as an apprentice in his father’s shop that gave him the realisation of how harsh life is for most people.

This bred a determination in him to work at the grassroots level. Even in the face of his father’s opposition, he remained determined and chose to leave his family.

Ho’s work for the poor has continued ever since, mainly through the Society for Community Organisation, which was established by Church people in 1972 and of which he is currently the director .

Running under the slogan, Life with dignity and humanity grows not from air but from our care, the organisation has never been afraid to highlight issues of poverty and homelessness that many in Hong Kong prefer to ignore.

Since the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty, Ho has staged a long fight for the right of abode in Hong Kong for the children of residents who were born on the mainland. 

After government scaremongering, claiming that nearly two million new immigrants would invade the territory and place an intolerable burden on social welfare, education and housing resources, his cause came under fire from a lot of quarters.

“Our phone rang almost every minute as people called to accuse us,” he remembers. “Some even verbally attacked us on the street. I felt angry, disappointed and disheartened that people could be merely concerned with their own interests and forget about justice.”

Ho’s contact with Christianity came through his involvement with Christian people in various campaigns he worked on. He says that he has been observing the work of foreign missionaries for decades.

“Various initiatives that offer welfare to the poor and education services could not have been achieved without the contribution of the Catholic Church, particularly from the 1940s to the 1980s,” he says.

The selfless deeds of Catholic priests and sisters may have influenced him, but it was only in recent years that Ho began his personal journey towards the faith. 

“After some reflection, I realised the reason people become selfish and unconcerned is because they neglect their spiritual and ideological dimensions,” he says.

A further revelation came when he realised that “only when we recognise sin can we know how to repent and to accept God and his words.”

But even though he now regards himself as being an instrument of God, he is not happy with all he sees in the development of the Church in Hong Kong.

“Since the handover, the Hong Kong government no longer sees the Church as its key partner in social welfare, so its role is diminishing,” he says.

He also believes that new systems have forced every government-funded social service group, including the Church, to be self-financing.

He laments that as a result, “The Church is gradually shifting its target towards the middle class.”

Ho has also noticed that as religious vocations dry up, priests and sisters are increasingly tied up with internal Church matters.

Nevertheless, he maintains his hope that the Church will continue to stand by its concern for the poor.

“Jesus, who lived with the grassroots people, is a role model sent by God to let people understand how a righteous man should act,” he says. “He is the greatest model for me to follow.”

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