Fr. Isaiah Mary goes on mission to Hong Kong once a year with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society (laymissionary.org). He is happy to offer his reflections about his and Tricia Bølle’s trip this past spring. This series will run from July through August. We hope you enjoy!
The United States Consulate is the only place in all of Hong Kong where you can get a quality hamburger. Across the street sits St. Joseph’s parish. Affectionately known as the ‘blue church’, it is where many of the Filipino domestic workers—drivers, maids, nannies—attend Mass. My friend Tricia wanted me to experience liturgy there.
“The pastor there really knows,” she mentioned. “Being Filipino himself, he doesn’t look down at the congregation at all—he’s funny, he’s articulate, he preaches really well….”
We met the pastor outside the church. We were both dressed in traditional Filipino shirts called ‘barongs’, which also signaled to people that we were clerics. Tricia and I told him about the Called & Gifted Workshop and asked if we can hold it in this parish. We were thinking that, since the domestic workers work in homes of a variety of backgrounds, what better way that the workers can preach the Gospel is by their very lives, interacting with people of different faiths and backgrounds? It’s a sort of undercover evangelization!
Our meeting went rather well. Afterwards, the pastor invited me into the Church. He led me to the sacristy, and once inside, turned to me, saying, “You’re gonna preach and preside, okay?”
Fr. Isaiah’s outside voice said, “Oh yeah! Sure. No problem. Be glad to.”
Fr. Isaiah’s inside voice said, “…oh.”
Four minutes later, at twelve noon, the servers and the pastor led me to the front of the Church.
On a regular Tuesday lunch hour, in the urban sprawl that is Hong Kong, there were more than 150 people in this Mass. With a choir.
And it wasn’t enough that the congregation was fully engaged. The singing was loud and lovingly off-tune. The congregation responded, their minds and voices present to the miracles that they were about to receive. The church building felt vibrant, alive even, God’s sons and daughters eager to celebrate their faith, their God, and to receive His life within themselves. Eager they were to line up to receive the Eucharist, some of the congregation pushing each other forward just so they can receive Him faster. It was a sort of impatience and hunger that I have yet to encounter again.
For me, this last-minute Mass at St. Joseph’s is a great image to use for our faith in this part of the world. This is the Catholic faith in Hong Kong. In a place where our Catholic faith is competing with Hindu, Buddhism, western capitalism, secular humanism, overarching governmental pressures, technology and entertainment, as well as a food craze that would dizzy anyone from San Francisco, it is sometimes hard to find our brothers and sisters in Christ.
So what does the Church there do? They are Catholic.
They go to Mass. They pray the rosary on their version of BART. They hold Bible Studies at Pacific Coffee (their version of Peet’s) and they invite their nonChristian friends to talk about God. They talk about God—in public. I was at a lunch meetup with a group of professionals who had lunch together, and shared their faith while talking about the upcoming Gospel. Another time, I overheard a pair of young adults compete on how many rosaries they said that day—this is the Faith Alive in Hong Kong.
In other words, it was really hard to find lukewarm Catholics.
Yet—nothing is impossible for God.
It took me three trips to Hong Kong to find a lukewarm Catholic. But it wasn’t lukewarm. It was something else. Something sadder.
Tricia and I had dinner with a family, who have supported our ministry. That family brought over extended family to meet Tricia-The-Lay-Missionary. (I felt like a sprig of parsley.) And over the course of the conversation, one of the guests shared that she was a cradle Catholic, goes to Mass on Sundays (at Rosaryhill, the Dominican Church at that!) and checks all of the boxes.
But there was no fire. No warmth. No true love for Jesus or zeal for the Church.
Yes, she was interested in her children’s education and overall welfare. Past that, though, there was no fire, no desire, to discover more about Jesus. There was hardly any passion about any one thing. She gave the impression that she did the God Thing in order to not go to the other place.
Minus this incident, though, what strikes me about our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong is that they are passionate. They are alive. They are vibrant. There are not many of us on that small island, yet they know what they are and what they are about. They pray with and for each other with fervor and with hope. They engage with those outside the Catholic world with kindness, and are happy to invite them into a church for Mass or to a prayer meeting. Their openness about their faith inspires and challenges me.
Not all of us are called to foreign mission. But all of us are responsible to carry out the Great Commission. The proclamation to baptize and to teach is not only the responsibility of clerics, sisters, and the occasional supervolunteer. By virtue of your baptism, you are called to bring the Light to every aspect of your life and to challenge the Holy Spirit to make His presence known. Dare we dream of the day where every child, woman, and man is united under the banner of the Father? This is Jesus’ dream (John 17:21). But is it yours?
You are invited to be part of the mission! St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society is a Catholic non-profit organization dedicated to evangelize to young adults in Asia. You can give financially via Paypal at www.laymissionary.org, giving a monthly or one-time gift of $50 or more we are an IRS recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Our EIN is: 46-2993509.