For the business-minded Chinese, location is everything. As Catholics in the business of evangelization, this fact has not been lost at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, where I was pastor for 13 years.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an inner-city parish located in the middle of Hong Kong Island’s harbor front, next to the downtown business district. We sought ways to do evangelization in the heart of busy Hong Kong, realizing that OLMC’s convenient location allows for office workers to drop in at noon for weekly Holy Hour and benediction or after work for doctrine classes.
Hong Kong has become the most vertical city in the world due to the shortage of land. Almost all of Hong Kong’s 7 million people live on the 7 percent of the land available for housing, with a large percentage of the population living above the 16th floor. While family living space steadily shrinks, rents in Hong Kong—already the highest in the world—rise nearly every month. Young people cannot get married because of the lack of affordable housing, and families cannot have guests over as there is simply no room in their minuscule apartments.
OLMC parish occupies the bottom four floors of a 42-story residential high-rise near downtown. We get many requests from outside groups to use our premises—when the parish is not busy with Masses, weddings and Sunday school. Some activities include ecumenical Taizé prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with scores of youth present. Guest speakers provide talks, seminars and workshops open to the public. On Wednesday evenings, workers arrive, notebook in hand, to watch a two-hour Skype presentation live from Jerusalem hosted by a Hong Kong-bred Franciscan friar. The parish also hosts weekly “Life in the Spirit” and “Lectio Divina” sessions to deepen people’s spirituality.
Strictly speaking, parishioners do “go out into the streets,” as Pope Francis says, during the annual Palm Sunday procession, with our Chinese-speaking and English-speaking communities walking from the nearby Catholic school to the church, singing and waving palms and giving our curious neighbors a glimpse of a favorite Catholic tradition. We bring the glad tidings of our faith to our neighbors each Christmas by singing carols to hundreds of yuletide mall shoppers. They all receive invitations to visit our church. Parish volunteers also bring Communion to the sick and visit prisons.
Recently, the parish’s evangelization outreach included the arts, with a visiting French missionary from Taiwan introducing his stylistic calligraphy to express religious concepts after Mass and a French sister demonstrating her painting technique on the sidewalk outside our church’s entrance. The church lobby became a religious art gallery, with parishioners explaining the paintings to visitors.
I believe these programs and outreach, along with the warm hospitality shown by Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s parishioners, have sown the seeds of evangelization in the surrounding neighborhood.
Featured Image: Father Cuff and parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Hong Kong practice Christmas carols for presentations at local malls.