Hong Kong, Macau pilgrims come together in faith at World Youth Day

August 6, 2023

Hong Kong Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow Sau-Yan, SJ, preaches during a catechesis session for pilgrims from Hong Kong and Macau at St. John of God Parish in Lisbon, Portugal, at World Youth Day Aug. 4, 2023. (OSV News photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)

LISBON, Portugal (OSV News) -- Carrying bright red flags with a flower, young adult pilgrims from Hong Kong hurried into St. John of God Parish in Lisbon, Portugal, for their final "Rise Up" catechesis session of World Youth Day on Aug. 4.

Parishes, parks and civic centers have played host to these events in 30 languages all around Lisbon and in neighboring communities.

After shuffling down a flight of stairs into a large basement meeting space beneath the church sanctuary, the pilgrims smiled as they found their trip mates, in turn also joining others from their neighboring diocese of Macau.

The morning consisted of praise and worship, prayers, Eucharistic Adoration, Holy Mass, as well as confessions. After filling nearly every open spot on the floor and chairs, the group listened as Hong Kong Cardinal-designate Stephen Sau-Yan Chow, SJ, preached and led the catechesis session.

Named by Pope Francis to be Hong Kong's fourth cardinal less than a month ago, Cardinal-designate Chow preached in Cantonese in Lisbon, often smiling as he looked around the rooms full of young people. The day after the consistory was announced, he told reporters July 10 that he hoped "there will be more reconciliation and more hopes can be given to young people," as quoted by The Associated Press.

One of the young Catholics sitting on the floor was Hison Wong, a first-time World Youth Day attendee.

Having just graduated from university, the 22-year-old found himself in Lisbon staring down the start of his professional working life with the first day of a new graduate job on the horizon.

He had hoped, and soon learned while in Lisbon, that WYD would be a good preparation for the next stage in his life. Wong’s group traveled to France before arriving in Lisbon.

In thos days ahead of the faithful celebration of World Youth Day, Wong found himself growing into a "deeper and deeper relationship" with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then, here in Lisbon, witnessing the wide diversity of the Catholic Church, he found his experience to be even more profound, especially in the presence of Pope Francis.
For Wong, the greatest challenge in being a young Catholic in Hong Kong was to simply be faithfully Catholic, wherever a Hong Konger would be -- at work, in school and in family life and beyond.

"How can we bring Jesus into every situation, especially when we are not in a Catholic school classroom or a church," he said. After his first encounters with Pope Francis in Lisbon, Wong felt affirmed to know that the youth have a place in the Catholic Church.

"Young people can think that the Church belongs to bishops, priests or seminarians. In Hong Kong, we might even think that older faithful are more in charge of the church. … Throughout this World Youth Day, the fact is that we, as young people, are called to give more. As Catholics we are not doomed to serve, but we are called to serve."

At one point during Eucharistic adoration, after Cardinal-designate Chow’s catechesis and the ensuing celebration of Mass, Wong looked around the room and noticed several of his former Sunday school students also in attendance, just with another group separate from his.

Realizing he was praying with the same people he had once been called to serve as a catechism teacher, Wong said he "wept for something beautiful."

"Despite so many different things, God could still make it through. We meet here again at World Youth Day in Lisbon, so far away from Hong Kong," he said.

Comboni Missionary Father Rafael Vigolo, MCCJ, spiritual director of the group with which 39 young people came to Lisbon, said he was "very happy" to accompany youth like Wong.

"The youth get together and discover, little by little, the richness of the faith, having this encounter with God. They can understand that God is always with us, and we do not do this journey alone, we do it with others," Father Vigolo said.

The Diocese of Macau, with its Catholic faith planted by many missionaries like the Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who evangelized the Portuguese settlement, is a place for the world to experience both the East and West together, according to Father Vigolo.

"And for the church, always, it is like a bridge, a door to enter China, and to spread the Gospel," he said. And for the teens to come to Lisbon for World Youth Day, "they feel at home." But at the same time, they know their own Chinese culture, one with "a richness that we don’t have."

"We need to discover the beauty," Father Vigolo said. "The presence of God is already there. Even though the majority are not Christians, God is there, and God talks through their culture to us."

The reality of being Catholic in China, in Macau, he said, is being "a witness of Jesus among many people that … are not Catholic. I think being here together (at World Youth Day) with so many young people around the world, this is strengthening our faith. They will know for the future that they are not alone."

Diocesan officials estimated that roughly 850 pilgrims comprised the different pilgrim groups from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. They joined the more than 2,500 other pilgrims from Asia, with the largest delegation -- of 17 Korean dioceses sending a total of 1,051 official delegates -- coming from South Korea, according to UCA News.