I wrote two days ago about the encounters I had with Fr. Naylor, an Irish Jesuit priest who has dedicated his life and ministry to Hong Kong. There was a fantastic resonance I had in following him and learning from his wisdom. Today, he invited me to join him during his Sunday duties in which he said two Masses.
The first Mass was in an office building in the middle of downtown Hong Kong. It is unlikely church, which is really a Catholic chapel on the third floor of a high rise building. It is called the Catholic Center. It was established for downtown workers but on Sunday’s has a very unique ministry. If you have downloaded Google Earth, you can view my pictorial of the parish by clicking here. The Catholic Center has seating for 70, but the Mass was occupied by over 300.
The congregants were the Filipina women who serve as housekeepers, maids, and/or nannies, for the numerous households of business men and women in Hong Kong. I don’t know that I’ve seen anything like it before. I couldn’t even take a picture because we were traveling so fast, and the lighting was so poor, so words will have to do.
Can you imagine living in a foreign country and only having contact with your own culture one day a week? You work and live in someone else’s home, so you cannot entertain company. Your friends from your homeland also work and live in someone else’s home, so they cannot have you over as company. So you get a piece of cardboard, or a blanket and you go downtown and squat wherever you can find a dry place, under a building’s entrance, under an overpass, in walkways of public transportation. Here you sit and enjoy the freedom of a day off. You have cared for the needs of others all week long, and now you can play cards, or take a nap on the lap of your friend.
Everywhere you look downtown, this was the scene. Approximately 85,000 Filipina women work as housemaids in Hong Kong. They leave their husbands, children, and communities to come here to make a starting wage of 450 a month (plus room and board). That is 5,400 dollars a year, and almost all of that money gets sent back to the Philippines in remittances so that their families, whom they rarely if ever get to see, can have a better life, go to school, or just afford to live. They sacrifice the support of their friends and communities to have a job in a foreign land.
So that one day off every week, for 85,000 women, becomes the one day a week that they can reconnect with their culture, their faith, and what friends they have working and living in Hong Kong. So even if it is just sitting on the promenade of the bank, crowded with thousands of others, they sit with ineffable happiness. Today they are free. They don’t have to do anything, or care for anyone. They can simply enjoy their time and enjoy their company.
This flood of migrant workers to Hong Kong is what causes the large crowds of attendance at English speaking Masses on Sunday morning. When things are so foreign, one tends to cling to hope. So they pray to God with all their soul. When you live in another culture, you crave for a taste of what you know. The Catholic culture is prominent in the Philippines, so partially out of hunger for Catholicism and partially out of hunger for Philippine culture, they flood to Mass.
The Archdiocese of Hong Kong is a Chinese diocese which primarily serves the Chinese living in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong is also an international city, and so Mass is said in numerous languages throughout the city for various language and ethnic groups. I remind us of that because I don’t want to leave the impression that the Church is only serving Filipinas. But it is important to note that the Church is a family made up of the laborer, the businessman, the politician, and the migrant. They all have a home in the Church.
Fr. Naylor rushed me through the city of Hong Kong, you can see our path in the Google Earth pictorial. There was a sense of urgency to his mission. One got the impression not of imprudence or haste, but that the gospel message was important and the work of God needs to be done. Now! Why wait? I should have some fun and point out that in the pictures I took of him, he kind of looks like the cartoon character Elmer Fudd, which made him quite a loveable guide. He also sounds a little bit like Anthony Hopkins playing the role of Hannibal Lector from the Silence of the Lambs. Thankfully, I never felt like he was going to kill me or eat me.
We eventually went off to Transfiguration Chapel at St. Joan of Arc school where he said his second Mass of the day. To see my Google Earth pictorial of the chapel, please click here. This was a far way from downtown and not as crowded, but still attended by Filipina women. Fr. Naylor and I were the only two men.
After rushing around all day and learning all I could from this saintly Irish missionary, he dropped me off with other Jesuits to talk with students at a Jesuit school. He said something quite profound in the delicious tone of understatement that he possesses.
“I’ll see you in heaven.”
I’ve often made that same remark to people. It comes from a sincere belief of mine that no encounter is mere chance, and no goodbye is permanent. If we won’t have the opportunity to do so before, we will meet in heaven. There is no need to worry. There is no need to fear. We have confidence that Christ has won the victory for us, and so we journey to that great day when all will be one.
I was briefly sad. I will probably never encounter Fr. Naylor face to face again, at least in the brief time we both have remaining as creatures of the flesh. I will see Naylor again in the fullness of time, and it will be my delight to have him give me a tour of heaven with the same brisk urgency that he showed me Hong Kong. I will also be glad to introduce him to you when you get there as well.