Carmelite mission in Hong Kong started over 30 months ago. The actual members involved are three priests from the Indonesian Province. They are Heribertus Heru Purwanto, Paulus Waris Santoso, who have lived in Hong Kong since 21 October 2013, and David Tristijanto, who joined them on 28 March 2015.
What are they doing now? The main responsibility of Heribertus is running a retreat house owned by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. Heribertus lives together with David whose main responsibility is learning the Cantonese language. Paulus just has been appointed Assistant Parish Priest in St. Teresa’s Parish, Kowloon Tong, one of the big parishes in Hong Kong. It has three Masses on the weekdays, and on the weekend there are six Masses.
The idea of having a community in Hong Kong came from our confreres who were working in Mainland China. Due to the political situation, it was and is difficult for missionaries in China to establish a real community life. Therefore, our confreres who had been working some years in China, proposed to the Provincial Council of the Indonesian Province to ask the Bishop of Hong Kong if we could serve the people of Hong Kong Diocese. In this way we would hopefully have a community in Hong Kong, which could be an oasis for our confreres who are working in a difficult situation in China.
During the Asia – Australia - Oceania Regional meeting held at Carmelite Retreat House in Bali, on 21-30 November 2008, Albertus Herwanta, the Councilor General, talked about an idea of opening an international Carmelite community in Singapore, and the reasons for it. Examining the reasons of the idea, Heribertus Purwanto, Prior Provincial of the Indonesian Province, proposed Hong Kong instead of Singapore. According to him, even Hong Kong is more strategic than Singapore; because it is close to China, and this would allow us to support our mission in China. Albertus Herwanta did agree and then conveyed this idea to the Prior General and his Council, and communicated with Cardinal John Tong, the Bishop of Hong Kong.
Prior General, Fernando Milan Romeral, supported this idea. On 1st October 2009 he wrote an official letter to Cardinal John Tong Hon, asking him about the possibility of opening a Carmelite community in Hong Kong (Prot.375/2009). Cardinal John Tong Hon expressed his positive response on his letter of 3rd November 2009. He wrote, “In today’s Curia meeting, I presented this idea and everyone warmly welcome your proposal to join us in our Diocese”.
At that time, Heribertus Purwanto just finished his term as Prior Provincial, and the new Prior Provincial, Ignatius Joko Purnomo, asked him to go to Hong Kong to pioneer the presence of Carmelite Order in Hong Kong. He agreed. But there was a sudden change of plan. Heribertus was needed to be sent to China instead to Hong Kong. Why? Because Prior General, Fernando Milan, who just came back from his visitation to China, found that our confreres, who were only two priests, needed one more member, and the need was urgent. Heribertus departed to China and joined the two confreres in April 2010. So the realization of opening a community in Hong Kong was postponed.
Finally, on August 17, 2013, Cardinal John Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong on behalf of the Diocese, and Ignatius Joko Purnomo, Prior Provincial of Indonesia on behalf of the Province, signed an agreement in which the rights and the obligations of both sides were written down. On October 21, 2013 three Carmelites, Heribertus, Heru Purwanto, and Paulus Waris Santoso, were sent to pioneer Carmelite mission in Hong Kong. When they arrived in Hong Kong, they were welcomed by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers who allowed them to stay in their big house in Stanley.
As new missionaries, Heribertus and Paulus learned the local language which is Cantonese. They went to Cantonese class run by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. This is a special Cantonese class for missionaries. So learning the local language was the first priority. The other priority of these first Carmelites in Hong Kong was to buy a house which could be used as a Centre of Spirituality. Therefore for several months they went around New Territories to see houses for sale. Why New Territories? Because the price of houses in this area was cheaper than in other areas (Hong Kong side and Kwoloon side). But, in fact, even in the New Territories the prices of a house was too high. Comparing the prices of a house, the budget given by the mission bursar of Indonesia was almost nothing. Therefore, after they had a looked at some other houses in different locations, they gave up; they said - stop thinking of buying a house. It is too expensive.
Heribertus and Paulus did enjoy of living together with the Maryknolls in Stanley - their great hospitality, beautiful view, and nice food. But they found that Maryknoll House was not the right place for someone who is still learning Cantonese. The reason was because everyone in this community spoke English, and prayed and celebrated Mass also in English. Therefore, after one year, Heribertus and Paulus decided to leave the Maryknoll House and move to a community where they could have more of a chance to practice the language they were learning. Rev. Dominic Chan, Vicar General of Hong Kong Diocese allowed Heribertus to move to Saint Jerome’s Church, while Tin Shui Wai and Paulus moved to Saint Anne’s Church, Stanley. Heribertus lived and assisted the parish activities for one year, from 19 November 2014 to 23 November 2015. Paulus lived and assisted the activities of Saint Anne’s parish for more than one year.
On February 2015, a priest informed Paulus that the Columban Sisters, who run a retreat house for the Diocese, would leave their mission in Hong Kong due to the lack of personnel. Then Paulus told Heribertus about it. On February 11, 2015, Heribertus wrote an email to Vicar General of the Diocese asking the possibility for the OCARMs to replace the Columban Sisters in running the Shek O Retreat Centre. On February 16, 2015, Fr. Dionysius Kosasih, Vice Prior Provincial, came in Hong Kong to attend the meeting of Carmelites of China and Hong Kong. On the next day, he and Heribertus met Cardinal John Tong Hon, Bishop of Hong Kong, to talk about the possibility of the Carmelites to operate the retreat house which will be left by the Columban Sisters. Cardinal John Tong advised them to talk with Fr. Dominic Chan, Vicar General. Therefore after they left the Cardinal’s office, they went to meet Fr. Dominic Chan in his office. Thanks be to God, the Vicar General gladly supported the idea of letting the Carmelites run that retreat house. So he advised Heribertus to ask his Prior Provincial to write an official request to Cardinal John Tong.
On March 4, 2015, Fr. Ignatius Joko Purnomo, Prior Provincial, wrote a letter to Cardinal John Tong. In his letter dated March 11, 2015, His Eminence gave a positive response to Prior Provincial’s letter. He stated that the Diocese of Hong Kong will allow the Carmelites to operate the Shek O retreat house, reminding them that it cannot be used as a canonical house. He asked, for the Carmelites to continue to look for a residence to be their own canonical house. Finally, a written agreement or A Deed of License between the Catholic Diocese on Hong Kong and the Provinsialat Ordo Karmel Indonesia was signed dated on November 1, 2015.
ABOUT SHEK O RETREAT HOUSE
This is a small retreat house. Its facilities are, 4 two-bed rooms, 3 single-bed rooms, 1 conference room, 2 quiet rooms, chapel, dining room, car park, sound system, audio-visual equipment, and air-conditioned. It offers spiritual counselling to individuals and small groups who come for spiritual guidance. Originally it wasn’t a retreat house. It was built 42 years ago by the late Bishop Francis Hsu as a rest house for the Chinese Diocesan Clergy, where they could meet and share their thoughts and experiences. Over time, the house was left underused. The Diocese then converted it to be used as a retreat house for a small groups. And in 2003 the Diocese let the Columban Sisters operate this retreat house. There is Sunday Liturgy celebrated in the Chapel to cater for the pastoral needs of the residents nearby and the tourists visiting the beautiful Shek O beaches and vicinity.
It is located at the end of a beautiful peninsula named Shek O which literally means the “rocky bay”. The entire area is a peninsula on the southern coast of the Hong Kong Island, facing the South China Sea. Shek O village is surrounded by Shek O Country Park, Big Wave Bay and Cape D’Aguilar. It has a beautiful sandy beach and exotic rocky cliffs. It is a popular weekend and holiday destination, offering a public barbecue area and many restaurants. The rocky cliffs provide and excellent place for sports climbing, while the Carmelites hope this retreat house will offer spiritual renewal for the many visitors who visit this beautiful place.