CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 November 2017

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Pioneering lay missionary mourned

HONG KONG (SE): A packed St. Andrew’s church in Tseung Kwan O paid a last tribute to a woman that human wisdom may tell us departed from this life too early, but prayed that the light of the wisdom of the Lord who giveth and taketh away will show the path to appreciating the value of what Jessica Ho Oi-chu contributed during her 52 years on this earth.
 
She died on the evening of October 9 and family, friends and associates gathered at St. Andrew’s on October 26 to bid their final farewell.
 
Ho was a trailblazer, but one with a deep faith and finely tuned understanding of participating in the mission of God on earth.
 
In 1980, she became the first lay person and the first woman to study theology at the Holy Spirit Seminary College, something she regarded as a necessity to prepare herself for what were to become the defining years of her life.
 
She became the first person from Hong Kong to join the Maryknoll Lay Mission Society and in 1983 embarked for Tanzania where, under the guidance and mentorship of the sisters, she taught religion and handicrafts to children.
 
Returning three years later with a clear vision of the lacuna the absence of the laity can leave in Church involvement in the mission of God, Ho set about creating a continuity in the outreach of the laity from the city and the Hong Kong Catholic Lay Mission Association was born.
 
She sought expertise where she could find it and in 1988 John Baptist Cardinal Wu Cheng-chun blessed the establishment of the association and the work of preparing and orientating those who had been bitten by her enthusiasm began.
 
In a tribute, the association recalled Ho’s reflection on what she had done:
 
“I had a dream. I saw many of my brothers and sisters in other places suffering. They were people of different ethnicities and colour. However, in this dream they were my relatives.”
 
This dream developed and, following the guidance of God, together with the momentum of an enthusiastic group of people, the first and only overseas mission outreach organisation in Hong Kong was established.
 
As the years past, others took up the challenge and ventured to Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mauritius, Cambodia, northern Thailand and India. In 2016 the first married couple set off for Cambodia.
 
By 2015, the group had matured sufficiently to organise an Asia-wide Lay Missionary Forum in Hong Kong. It ran under the theme of Conversion to Evangelisation and was attended by lay missionaries from Hong Kong, The Philippines, Canada, Japan and South Korea.
 
Ho led the way and by her own example witnessed to the great strength the weakness of the missionary embraces.
 
“Although our strength is small, we have the powerful and almighty God as our support and backup. What should we worry about? God will take care of us,” she would say.
 
In 2008, the then-president of the association, Eunice Lo Yuen-ting, described strength in weakness as epitomised by the foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.
 
Speaking at a Mission Sunday forum, she called them missionaries in the true sense, as they live and work in the homes of those who do not know Christ and from their position of weakness, not power or authority, give witness.
 
Lo described the spirit of the Lay Missionary Association as being “to leave, to be and to return.”
 
She said, “We leave our own country in order to change our own patterns of thinking and learn new ways in new cultures by being with the people and sharing our professional skills with them. Then, like St. Paul, we return, to give a detailed account of our activities to the disciples at home.”
 
But she insisted that is not the end of the story, as there are many ways of supporting mission and each way is needed.
 
“Some people go to give,” she said, “but there are others that provide the support that they need and they are the ones who give to go.”
 
This is the spirit of the dream that prompted Ho to take her life in the direction she followed and she lived it in service of the weakest and most vulnerable people in the city.
 
She understood the value of proper preparation and went to the United States of America to study pastoral counselling and spiritual guidance. She joined the Christian Life Community and became a guide in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and later earned a doctorate in social work from the University of Hong Kong.
 
The remainder of her life Ho devoted to forming and guiding the Lay Mission Association, while she committed herself to the protection of the rights of children, working for the non-government organisation, Against Child Abuse, until the growing cancer in her body finally sapped the last of her energy just one month before she passed from this world.
 
The president of Against Child Abuse, Patrick Cheung Chi-hung, eulogised her as a zealous advocate for children’s rights, determined in publicising their plight among the wider society.
 
She also believed in the importance of the parish community and for many years was a catechist at her local church in Tseung Kwan O.
 
Speaking on behalf of the Lay Mission Association, Au Yeung Yuk-ming said that despite her great strength, it was her weakness that she cherished, always remaining a humble person who understood the value of her life in terms of the service she could give, not what she had achieved.
 
“My mission is accomplished, what remains will be continued by you all,” were her parting words to her friends in the Hong Kong Catholic Lay Mission Association.
May she rest in peace.

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