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Activist finds faith through service

Baptism leads to a new life of evangelism

Activist finds faith through service
Ho Hei-wah reporter, Hong Kong
Hong Kong

August 17, 2011

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It has been a long and winding road that has taken Ho Hei-wah from his wealthy upbringing to a position as one of Hong Kong’s most dedicated social activists, and ultimately to a life of devout Catholicism. Ho describes his baptism, which took place at Easter, as “not the end but the beginning of a new life, in which I can not only help people, but also spread the Gospel to them and help more people to know God.” Now in his 50s, he remains as committed as ever to his 30-year campaign for social justice. But he adds that his recently found faith “has eliminated the anger inside my heart. It gives me the patience to listen to people as they air their grievances and to truly understand that all humans are equal.” He was born into an affluent family, his father a dealer in precious stones. It was through working together with the employees in his father’s shop as an apprentice that he began to realize how harsh life is for most people. This made him determined to help at a grassroots level. Even when meeting opposition from his father, his determination remained undimmed. He chose to leave his family. Ho's work for the poor has continued ever since, mainly through the Society for Community Organization, established by Church people in 1972, which he now directs. With the slogan “life with dignity and humanity grows not from air but from our care,” his group has never been afraid to highlight the issues of poverty and homelessness that many in Hong Kong would prefer to ignore. Since the handover from British to Chinese rule, Ho has staged a long fight for the right of abode in Hong Kong for residents’ children who were born on the mainland. After the government warned of nearly two million new immigrants and an intolerable burden on social welfare, education and housing resources, his cause attracted some fierce criticism. “Our phone rang almost every minute as people called to accuse us,” he remembers. “Some even verbally attacked us on the street. I felt angry, disappointed and disheartened that people can be merely concerned with their own interests and forget about justice.” Ho’s contacts with Christianity came through his campaigning; he has witnessed the charitable works of foreign missioners for decades. “Various initiatives that offer welfare to the poor and education services could not have been achieved without the contribution of the Catholic Church, particularly from the 1940s to the 1980s,” he says. The selfless deeds of Catholic priests and nuns may have influenced him, but it was only in recent years that Ho began his personal journey towards the faith. “After some reflection, I realized the reason why people become selfish and unconcerned is because we neglect spiritual and ideological work,” he says. A further revelation came when he realized that “only when we recognize sin can we know how to repent and to accept God and His words.” But even though he now regards himself as “merely an instrument of God,” he is not happy with all he sees in the development of the Church in Hong Kong. Unsurprisingly, he is quick to ariculate a number of concerns. “Since the handover, the Hong Kong government no longer sees the Church as its key partner in social welfare, so its role is diminishing,” he says. He also believes that new systems have forced every government-funded social service group, including the Church’s, to be self-financing. “Thus, the Church is gradually shifting its target towards the middle class.” He has also noticed that, due to the shortage of people with vocations,  priests and nuns are increasingly tied up with internal Church matters. Nevertheless, he maintains his hope that the Church will continue to stand by its concern for the poor. “Jesus, who lived with the grassroots, is a role model sent by God to let people understand how a righteous man should act,” he says. “He is the greatest model for me to follow.” END Related reports: Plan to raze flats ‘not workable yet’ HK minimum wage too low, says Church Catholic group says policy speech ignores poor
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