As well as aiming to unite all its members with the Christian spirit, university and college chapters of the Catholic Society (Katso) in Hong Kong are also proving a cradle for romance among young couples.
This is in stark contrast with parish groups run by congregations and clerics where relationship building between young people is often ignored, they say.
Daisy Lau and her boyfriend are both final year students at City University of Hong Kong. Their friendship grew into love after they finished their terms of office as Katso committee members last year.
Lau, who is also active in her parish, said “the most crucial difference between parish and campus settings is that we meet five days a week in school.”
“There is plenty of time for us to understand each other and build trust,” she said.
Frequent Katso committee meetings and discussions helped them mature, Lau added, noting that “whenever there were differences of opinion, we learned to pause, listen to others, and make things better. That was the time when we really started to admire and appreciate each other.”
Winnie Tam, a former City University Katso president, said at least one marriage involving former committee members has taken place each year since 1998.
Another former president, Amelia Cheng, said a similar thing seemed to happening at other universities and colleges while she was part of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, which oversees the pastoral work of 12 Katso chapters in the diocese.
“University students share a similar routine. They have breaks between classes and a relaxation period after busy exam seasons. It is easier for young couples to fix a time to go dating,” Cheng said.
She said she met her husband while participating in parish activities, a rarity among her Catholic classmates.
Parish groups comprise members from a broader age range and different backgrounds. Young people are also less likely to meet fellow youngsters from another group.
“What’s worse is that there are always ‘uncles and aunties’ watching you and reporting everything you do in the parish to your parents, and that kills opportunities for young people to get to know each other and develop a relationship,” she said.
Working in the youth office of a religious congregation now, Cheng observes that youth groups that come under a religious community focus more on providing opportunities for religious vocations rather than social activities.
Clare Cheung, who married her Katso boyfriend in February, agreed, and called parish social activities with regard to relationship building, inadequate.
There are sufficient church resources to helping new couples in building their marriage and rearing children “but limited guidance on how and what young people should really do when they wish to start a relationship,” she said.
“Relationship issues are often a subtopic under sex education in secondary school moral classes, which mainly teaches us what not to do, such as not to have premarital sex, not to have an easy-come-easy-go attitude and not to date during study."
In her view, the Church should actively promote relationships by conducting workshops in universities and parishes, as this issue has a direct bearing on marriage rates and how young adults go about married life.