CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Halloween celebrated in a faith context

 

HONG KONG (SE): “We need to link social, secular celebrations in our society with the celebration of our faith,” Father Thomas Law Kwok-fai said at a Halloween party held in his parish of Mother of Good Counsel in San Po Kong on November 3.

“Marking things that are celebrated widely, like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, in the Church helps people to connect faith with everyday life,” he told the Sunday Examiner. “It also helps the Church to breathe with the people.”

Father Law said that society has its own way of approaching Halloween, as evidenced by the depictions of ghosts and imaginative nether worldly creatures displayed in shops and entertainment places, but the Church needs to find its own way.

He described the parish celebration, which was emceed by Giovanni Pang, as creating a platform for the 300 or so people who attended to sit down and reflect on social issues together.

“It is a mixed group of Catholic youth and their friends and it provides an opportunity for them to share their wisdom and anxiety across their religious beliefs. We make use of the Catholic way of expressing things and explore them in other contexts,” he explained.

“People can see the Church being concerned with their needs, rather than a body that sits on the sidelines judging them from outside,” Father Law continued.

He described it as being a way of expressing our protective role and sharing on sacred issues.

Father Law explained that the evening took place in three parts. “First we looked at the things that we support in our society, and why,” he said, “then looked at what opposes achieving the good that we would like to see around us. These can be called the wicked things.”

Father Law called it one way of listening to the voice of our consciences. “Our consciences tell us that some things are right and some are wrong,” he explained, “but we need to hear others express the same thoughts to give us confidence in our consciences.”

He cited the example of the artificial beach being pushed in Hong Kong, saying that ordinary people know it poses danger to the natural landscape and we need to look at why a small group of powerful people are pushing it.

He said that people need to talk, examine where the vested interests are and ask why certain people are pushing it against the wishes of so many. “It is a way of learning from each other and a way of gaining confidence to stand against what we see as being wrong in our society.”

Father Law added that we also need to interpret the language of the Church in the context of modern day life. “We can explain exorcism as being our need to invite God into our hearts in order to deal with these things and the devil as what works against us in doing this.”

At the reflective Halloween evening, the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, explained the absolute nature of our conscience in the context of the recent encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Charity in Truth (Caritas Veritate).

“Our consciences must be formed in truth and in love,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Zen explained that without faith, charity and truth, we cannot face the reality of evil in our society.

He added that our consciences need to be formed over a long period of time, from primary and secondary school into university, as well as in the family and beyond, but there is also the need for enlightenment from God.

A guest speaker at the evening, Tommy Cheung, a core member of the Scholarism campaign against brainwashing in education, said that students want independent thinking.

“We want to hear things discussed from many perspectives,” he said. “We don’t want the brainwashing of the single perspective information flow.”

His remarks were backed up by James Hon Lin-shan, a retired teacher, who went on a hunger strike for 171 hours during the standoff with the government over the Moral and National Education Curriculum.

A parent, Doris Law, said that young people need guidance from each other and time to reflect on finding their way in the complex society in which they live.

Father Law pointed out that placing a Christian perspective on local festivals has a long history in the Church, as both Christmas and Easter are religious feasts that predate Christianity.

He explained that people placed their own perspective on them and developed them into Christian feasts.

He noted that the Church in Australia is encouraging parishes to celebrate Valentine’s Day and to make it a festival of family life and healthy relationships between young people.

Parishes encourage married couples to renew the promises of matrimony and celebrate marriage with their children, engaged couples to celebrate their love and young people to have a date at the church and reflect on the sacredness of each other and the importance of relationship.

“This helps them to give a Catholic perspective to a celebration that they take part in the secular world,” Father Law explained. “And what better way to do it than in the context of prayer.”

Halloween means the eve of All Saints’ Day and it is an occasion for celebrating the saints, the very saints that struggled against evil in this world.

Historically, it is just one example of a pre-Christian tradition that became woven into the tapestry of cultures that were deeply touched by the faith. The challenge today is to find appropriate ways of marking it, not simply throwing it out or condemning it.

While a Halloween party that deifies the devil is no doubt treading on rocky ground, the official exorcist for the archdiocese of Rome in Italy, Father Gabriele Amorth, says that the common depictions we see of the devil as a deformed kangaroo with a barbed tail, a pitch fork and horns are so far removed from the reality of the devil as to be harmless.

Young Catholic people get caught up in Halloween parties in the ebb and flow of their work and study lives and Father Amorth’s suggestion to them is just enjoy it and keep their faith perspective.

However, Father Law is adamant that the Church can also foster a helpful guide to young people as well, whereby they can also reflect how to respond to the evil they meet in their everyday lives from a Catholic faith perspective.

 

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