CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 August 2018

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Former offenders get fresh start on Cheung Chau

HONG KONG (UCAN): “They all live in Cheung Chau but didn’t like going to school and sometimes hung (around) on the street until one to two in the morning. They were invited to work here. We provide them with job training and prevent them from learning bad habits,” explains Lucia Leung Mei-ling, speaking about the young people working at McMercy Cheung Chau.
 
The snack shop on the outlying island was opened on May 26 by the Catholic group, MercyHK, to expand funding sources and provide job training and rehabilitation for young offenders and young people, and to spread the Catholic message. 
 
Four young people have been working part-time at the shop, taking turns working two to three hours daily after school. As a Catholic-run establishment, McMercy aims to help others. Leung has allowed the four students to eat but pay their bills later when they have money.
 
Leung, a co-founder of MercyHK, says they have changed a lot in two months. “They didn’t work seriously at the beginning but now take the initiative and will give advice to the shop to make changes. They are becoming responsible,” she said.
 
In October 2016, Leung started to do voluntary work for Australian Father John Wotherspoon of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Together with a third person, they rented several subdivided flats as temporary dormitories for rehabilitated offenders, the homeless, asylum seekers and those in need. They moved the dormitories to Cheung Chau last August and called them the Mercy Centre. 
 
In January, they founded MercyHK and in May opened McMercy.
 
“Rehabilitated offenders often encounter adaptation problems when they re-enter society. It is not easy to find a job. Our shop is a stopover where they can learn to get along with others and learn a life skill,” Leung explained.
 
MercyHK’s operating costs are covered by irregular donations, so the establishment of McMercy aims to increase income and provide job training.
 
Activities such as concerts will be held at the shop every month.
 
Leung manages the Mercy Centre which is on the other side of the island. Residents include an African couple, a mother with her three-year-old daughter, and a homeless person.  
 
In helping others, Leung has noticed changes in herself. 
 
“I used to be very nervous and stubborn, but now I will stop before acting. I don’t get angry or complain when facing setbacks. From those in need and Father Wotherspoon, I have also learned what Jesus said: Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven’.”
 
Leung often goes to church and prays. “Prayer is very useful when you are frustrated and unhappy. It will bring you closer to the Lord.”
 
Father Wotherspoon, who came to Hong Kong more than 30 years ago, is known for his work as a prison chaplain, visiting hospital patients and caring for drug addicts, the homeless, the poor, asylum seekers and the elderly. He also works to help those who have been tricked into being drug mules and to appeal to vulnerable people to not risk bringing drugs into Hong Kong.

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