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A cardinal’s prophetic voice

The periodic rumble about domestic worker litter in the city reared its ugly head again in late February with complaints about the crowded public parks, facilities, nooks and crannies.

On March 4, the Sunday Morning Post went to bat for the migrant workers, editorialising that they have as much right to public facilities as anyone else. It suggested that instead of complaining, it would be more constructive to look to planning the provision of adequate space and conveniences.

In this context, it was refreshing to hear the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, sticking up for them at his homecoming media conference on March 2.

He said that he encourages all parishes and Catholic schools to make their facilities available to migrant workers, not just in terms of provision of Church necessities, like the celebration of the sacraments in English, but in terms of space, where they can be at ease and have time to grow in a community as children of God.

Unhurried space is an important element in the lives of people who do not have a place to call home and are not blessed with the privilege of privacy. It is where the former Philippine consul general to Hong Kong, Claro Cristobal, said people can relax and cherish the feeling of being who they are, without having that feeling tempered by the way in which they think others perceive them.

Nevertheless, the knee jerk reaction of many people to simply clear out public parks and footpaths is reminiscent of the reaction to other issues in this city.

It raised its head in the lead up to the Supreme Court hearing on the right for migrant workers to apply for permanent residency, with the dominant call being to shut them out.

This call also came from people in government, quoting figures out of the air that had never been researched and opinions that had not been surveyed.

It seems they took the old adage that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing seriously and sought their safety haven in giving up learning altogether!

An organised study on what many migrant workers have to offer in other areas of life may well have been a more constructive way to approach the matter, as it is presumptuous to believe that washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, walking dogs and babysitting infants or people in their sunset years is the only contribution they can make.

A similar reaction has been evident over mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong. While there may well be an immediate strain on facilities, it also prompts the unaddressed question of what contribution these children could make in the future.

In February 2005, then chief secretary for administration, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, made an appeal for people to up the birth rate, calling for three children per family.

While his politics may have been clumsy, that does not negate the projected working population shortage he was seeking to address.

Hong Kong is a savvy society in need of savvy people, but it is unreasonable to think that they can simply be imported as a ready-made product to be put to work. Planning and commitment to nurturing and education is also necessary.

It is indeed refreshing to hear a voice that looks beyond the purely utilitarian to the beauty and care that people contribute to the life of society. JiM