CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Missionary sisters of the Immaculate celebrate 50 years in Hong Kong

The first Missionary sisters of the Immaculate (PIME Sisters) first set foot on Hong Kong soil on 11 September 1968— an auspicious day. Since then, 50 years have passed and they are counting the blessings of God Almighty and the maternal care of the Immaculate Mother for them down the decades. 
Of the two pioneers who reached arrived in 1968, Sister Theresa Pathickal is still with us, having served in the vineyard of the Lord and becoming a Hongkonger herself.
The call to the PIME Sisters for the Hong Kong Mission came as early as 1956, through a written request by Bishop Lorenzo Bianchi PIME, addressed to the superior general of the sisters, Mother Dones. 
In it he wrote: “You may find it strange to receive a letter from Hong Kong… I follow with great interest the development of your congregation and nourish the hope that a time may come when it will be possible to have our Sisters in Hong Kong.” 
Much water had flowed under the bridge when Bishop Bianchi’s hope became a reality!
Responding to the missionary situations in Hong Kong
Sharing the same spirit of the PIME Fathers (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions), the PIME Sisters carry out their missionary activities at the service of the local Church with the characteristics of availability and mobility. 
In fact their constitution further says, “Openness to the most urgent needs of evangelisation gives to all our activities a special characteristic of detachment, mobility and a provisional nature. Such characteristics make us always ready to leave the positions achieved in order to go elsewhere.” 
In keeping with this spirit, and in spite of being small in number, the PIME Sisters are involved in diverse missionary activities in response to the pressing missionary needs of the local Church and society. 
The first service was in the educational field and began on 1 September 1969, at the Catholic Primary School in Shek Lei. The sisters trusted in providence as they had neither the facilities nor the school building. 
In the 1970s, Shek Lei was a poor area with poor transport facilities and lack of a secondary school for girls. God did not fail them.
Today, thousands of young women have graduated from Pope Paul VI College. True to the motto of the school, Love and Service, many of them can be found serving in various sectors of society, contributing their share in its development. 
Besides education, the PIME Sisters are also involved in parish pastoral ministry as an effective way of fulfilling their missionary vocation. Through the decades they have carried out their service mostly in the New Territories. 
In getting involved in the catechumenate they feel happy because they see and experience how God’s grace touches the lives of many people, leading them to answer their inner religious aspiration—seeking God. 
Visiting families, being close to the people in times of difficulties and need; bringing God’s consolation, compassion and hope to the sick in the hospitals and to the troubled; sharing their faith experience with those who do not know Jesus yet is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the Apostle of the Father, bringing God’s gift of hope, joy and peace to all, along their missionary journey. 
Medical assistance and service to the disabled was another field of missionary service—helping in the Caritas clinic in Tsing Yi back in the 1970s and the home for the disabled started by Father Enea Tapella pime. 
In 1975, Hong Kong began receiving Vietnamese refugees fleeing from communist rule. As their numbers swelled and in order to deter the influx of refugees, they were interned in closed camps beginning July 1982 and literally kept behind barbed wire. 
Life in such camps called for humanitarian service as well as pastoral care, as large numbers of them were Catholics! 
The PIME Sisters responded generously to this need as several sisters shared in the pastoral work organised by the diocese, going regularly to the camps, some of which were situated also on distant islands. Most of all, it was being “friends to the friendless” whose future was uncertain and even bleak as many faced forced deportation. The sisters continued their service until 1997 when the camps were closed down. 
Visiting prison inmates is yet another missionary service in which the PIME Sisters have been engaged since the 1980s. They especially visit the non-Chinese who are serving long sentences far from their homeland with no one to visit them. 
This apostolate gives them an opportunity to be close to the broken hearted, and bring words of comfort and hope in the midst of misery behind bars. 
Many of the inmates visited by the sisters are not even Christians, but most of them ask for a copy of the Bible, as the Good News brings them joy and hope. So it is wonderful to see that the prison gates do not restrict the proclamation of the Good News! 
In recent years, Hong Kong has seen a rise in street-sleepers, homeless people who live in poverty but with great dignity. Such poor conditions are due to various factors of our affluent society. 
The PIME Sisters also embrace this as a missionary situation to be responded to by being close to them, visiting them—within the limits of possibilities—and bringing them some of life’s daily necessities. Above all, to be close to them, bringing them hope and the joy of encounter and letting them know that they are not forgotten in their situation on the margins of the society. 
Since the foundation of the institute, China has been in the hearts of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate and since the 1990s there have been visits by some sisters when the possibility presented itself. 
They rendered service by teaching English and caring for the mentally and physically disadvantaged, hoping and waiting to follow wherever the Holy Spirit opens doors for them in mainland China. 
Despite being a little flock here in Hong Kong, the PIME Sisters, through the decades, have strived to be the yeast in the dough, leavening brothers and sisters through the witness of their life, words and deeds. There have been local vocations and, true to their charism, they have been sent ad gentes (to the gentiles), to Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Brazil as the missionary expression of this local Church. 
It is their wish and prayer that more young people may be inspired to follow suit in the years to come, so the Church in Hong Kong may become more and more missionary, reaching out to the peripheries in its turn.
Fifty years is a milestone and an occasion for the sisters to sing their Magnificat along with their patroness, Mary Immaculate, for the great things the Almighty has done in and through them.
May their apostolic zeal keep increasing day in and day out, so that every brother and sister in Christ touched by them may become a missionary!
Sister Angelica Fernandes PIME

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