CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Highs and lows of tertiary student organisations

HONG KONG (SE): The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students held a Mass for the beginning of the academic year at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Shek Kip Mei on September 29, during which Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing spoke of the importance of putting their own concerns aside to some extent and making a deliberate effort to listen to the voices of the people at the margins of society.
The spiritual director of the federation, Father Martin Ip Po-lam; his outgoing predecessor, Father Paul Kam Po-wai; and the adviser, Father Franco Mella; as well as other priests involved in tertiary educational ministries joined the auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong together with students from other Catholic societies at the Mass.
Bishop Ha spoke of the difficulties Catholic societies in tertiary institutions face in recruiting new members, as well as in organising activities focussed on social concerns or spiritual development.
He encouraged the gathering to have faith in the inspiration of  Jesus, saying that this in itself can serve as a magnet to attract people and drum up a bit of interest.
He stressed that Christians should not only look up in their search for God, as he is very much present on the ground among the marginalised people of the city.
Father Ip, the incoming spiritual director of the federation, was inaugurated into his new position. He said that he believes that being spiritual director is not the primary challenge, as students in the federation have the ability to find ways to support themselves.
He also believes that students have within them the resources to respond in a meaningful manner to the many injustices present in society.
In stepping down from his job, Father Kam reflected that he has been impressed by the activities organised by the federation expressing concern over social problems and that the students have taught him much about the social teaching of the Church.
The newly-established Catholic society at the Open University of Hong Kong made its maiden appearance at a public federation function. Lai Hiu-yu, the chairperson, said that most of the 27 members are non-Catholic, so it is hard to organise religious activities, but there is much room for spreading knowledge about the faith.
She admitted that she has experienced difficulty in recruiting members, as many students do not show much interest in the religion. She explained that one plan of the new group is to put on a film screening in an attempt to spread the word about the group and try and recruit more members.
On the other hand, Ho Lai-yu, the president of the Catholic Society in Polytechnic University, spoke encouragingly about the orientation activity organised on campus by the group saying it was quite successful and he is confident people can be recruited to join the core committee for the next academic term.
Hugo Lam Lok-fung, the president of the citywide federation, said some students may not be attracted by the activities of the groups, as they hold a biased impression about religious activities being monotonous.
Even Catholic students often will not join, as they do not understand the mission of loving the poor. Lam said the federation is working on organising a volunteer campaign to encourage people to think about the religion in a different way from what they do now.
The federation held an orientation camp from October 14 to 15. Upcoming events include a Christmas party, a bit of carolling, a forum on homelessness and more voluntary campaigns for social support.

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