CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 January 2018

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A rainbow across the ocean

HONG KONG (SE): A chance meeting between a parish priest from Warrnambool in Australia and a tourist from Hong Kong, who was paying a chance visit to his stately blue stone church, resulted in a return meeting at the cathedral in Hong Kong.
 
Connie Chan Lai-sheung, a pastoral officer at the Diocesan Commission for Marriage and the Family, was holidaying at the beachside town in Victoria when she dropped the old line to her host for the moment, “If you are ever in Hong Kong give me a call.”
 
So when Father John Fitzgerald eventually did have a chance to visit the city in September on his way home from Italy, he had two reasons to be in the special administrative region, as back in 2013, he had met Tracy Ling, who was walking the same Ignatian Pilgrimage in northern Spain as he was.
 
Father Fitzgerald was able to catch up with both of his contacts while in Hong Kong and Chan brought him to the cathedral where he was shown around by one of the best qualified guides in the business, the administrator, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming.
 
“On entering, I could see that the cathedral is well cared for, well used and well loved,” Father Fitzgerald reflected. “There is a feeling of lightness within the interior of the building, contributed to by both the style of architecture and the décor.”
 
“I was most impressed when we arrived in the mid-afternoon to find a large group of about 80 people assembled for Eucharistic veneration in the apse chapel,” he reflects.
 
Relishing in the peace and quiet the spacious cathedral offers in contrast to the bustle of the streets, he said he was also impressed at seeing the baptismal font at the main entrance to the church, recalling that when his own parish church was refurbished in 2007 there was some debate as to where to place the font.
 
Although the church in Warrnambool is not nearly as big as the cathedral in Hong Kong, it is an attractive structure with two small spires flanking the main entrance.
 
However, he regrets that due to structural limitations, he was not able to have the font placed in a position to greet people as they enter.
 
“The significance of placing the font at the main entrance is a powerful symbol of being initiated into the faith community of the Church,” Father Fitzgerald noted, adding that at least he has the satisfaction of knowing that those entering by the side door of his church are able to benefit from the symbolism.
 
But what struck him most at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the crucifix over the main altar, especially in that the side facing the main part of the church differs from the side facing the apse chapel.
 
“The symbolism of the reverse side appealed to me, with the vine and the branches winding around the 12 apostles, together with the Chinese martyrs,” Father Fitzgerald explained.
“This spoke to me, reminding me that we, all of God’s people, are part of it and nourished by the one true vine,” he continued.
 
But what really caught his attention is the rainbow on the upper part of the crucifix and he explained that during the refurbishment of his own church there was an option of installing a reredos (ornamental screen) on the wall at the back of the sanctuary.
 
“Part of the decoration on the reredos is a rainbow,” he recalled with pleasure. “This is a symbol of God’s covenant with us, which is highlighted in Genesis 9:13.”
 
Father Fitzgerald added that he was impressed with the relic of Pope John Paul II and the four chapels behind the high altar, with their different devotional themes, as well as the pipe organ, statues and works of art.
 
While also impressed with many aspects of Hong Kong, the little town of Warrnambool with its 35,000 people is not without its own connection with Asia.
 
Apart from the fishing boats that ply the seas off its coastline, it is home to the Fletcher Jones clothing plant, which for many years was the biggest employer in town with its cutting floor, stitching rooms and output of fine men’s and women’s clothing.
 
A unique company in that the founder believed that the owner of the company should not be a controlling shareholder, the factory was also home to a beautiful parkland garden, which was open to the public at all times and people were welcome to come for picnics, a stroll or play with their children.
 
Much of the influence on Fletcher Jones for his unconventional business model came from China and Japan, where he had spent time studying the organisational methods of communes prior to World War II, even bringing a speaker from Japan to Australia to lecture on the matter in the 1930s.
 
Although a victim of China’s cheap labour today, it still manufactures fine materials for its clothes that are sewn on the mainland, but the parkland, together with a museum featuring the history of things past, are still open to the public.
 
But despite the natural beauty of his hometown, Father Fitzgerald found much to like about Hong Kong and is especially grateful to his three guides, Chan, Ling and Father Chan, who are all embraced by the rainbow of God’s covenant that stretches its protective arm across the ocean.

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