What I always cherish in my heart was the family atmosphere I experienced in my parish–St. Lawrence Church. It was first shown through the care of our parish priest, Fr. Peter Martinelli, PIME. Fr. Peter was a tall, strong-built Italian, we needed to look up or to go two steps higher on the staircase to speak to him. We recognised his coming by the sound of his footsteps, forceful and quick, especially amazing to see him jumping over the steps coming down the stairs. Sometimes we wondered where could he get his shoes. He was very simple and friendly, always with a nice smile on his face, but there were times he would show his worries or Italian temper: firm to actualise his ideal and persevered through hardships.
What I enjoyed most was the time after Mass on Sundays. The choir members were invited for a drink and snack, followed by various kind of games taught to us. During the process of learning the games we found out he was conveying moral lessons to us and sharing his own life experiences with us. He challenged us to try after failures, again and again, until we mastered the techniques for the games. He taught by demonstration and encouragement, he also left space for creativity and individual planning. We soon found out he sometimes deliberately let us win to build up our confidence. It was not only fun to play games with him, it was our opportunity for personal growth in faith and confidence, for building up unity in the parish. He was really clever to do so, to achieve 3 goals at the same time. We felt the bond of love and caring grew rapidly among us and we were happy to give service, or better say, enjoyed giving service in the parish. Once he taught us, the girls, how to drink beer without getting drunk, his purpose was to equip us to be prudent when we went for social gatherings. A really down to earth pastor!
He also cared very much about our spiritual growth. Every year he would organize a three to five days retreat for us, to let us have personal encounter with God. Since we were students, he was the one paying for everything. He would explain to us the benefits of going to a retreat, expelling our fear of being kept in silence and prayer for such a long period. He used to accompany us to the retreat house or asked another priest to do so. With the annual retreat, we grew deeper in our faith and grew closer in the relationship with God.
To foster the unity in the parish, he would encourage collaboration among the different Associations in the parish: Social Welfare Association to care for the needy, Seven Sorrows of Mary Association to care for the suffering, Youth Associations for the growth of young people, Children of Mary to foster the spirit of Mary in obeying God's will and giving service, St. Agnes Association to form the youngsters for purity and love of God, also Association to care for the Dying. The Choir and Altar Boys Association for the service of the liturgy. With the above associations, all groups and levels were taken care of: young and old, material and spiritual. We worked together for the good of the parish as a family, being in the young group, I often had the privilege to join the activities or gatherings of the elder groups, I was well loved and cared, growing healthily in the big family of God.
Another thing Fr. Peter did to keep the unity of the parishioners was to divide the parish into areas, members of the different associations were assigned to visit the parishioners at the areas, to bring them the parish newsletter and material goods they need, at the same time locating the sick, the elderly who needed regular visitation and care, tracing out lost sheep and bring them back to the pasture. With areas where we needed to go up dark staircases, we often go in pairs. It trained us to take risk for the love of our brethrens. The visits were not easy, sometimes, we needed to go several times to find people in the house, no contact could be made before the visit, remember: those days phones were not common and I-phones were not yet invented, many families had no phone! The hardest thing for me was to visit the parishioners who had leprosy. Leprosy was still common in Hong Kong those days. Fr. Peter explained to me before the visit that those had leprosy had been cured, only leaving marks of the disease: disfigured or deformed limbs. He went with me for the first time, I gathered my courage to look
at them and kept a smile on my face, though trembling inside. Then I was able to go to visit them alone and became at ease and treated them as ordinary people. I was not afraid to hold their hands and to eat with them.
What I have learned from Fr. Peter is that being a Christian is a follower of Christ, we have put on him at baptism, then we have to think, to act like him. Through the service in the Church, especially to those who are in need, we let God's love shine through us and let those we care encounter a loving God. Love is a wonderful thing, the more you give away, the more it will bounce back onto you, it fills you full to
the brim and overflows. That is the joy of giving in love and with love! (to be continued)