The small monastery of the Poor Clares in the city of Hong Kong. An experience of prayer and silence in a small island just a few minutes from the centre of a big city.
Lamma, which is located in the south of Hong Kong and which is also known as Pok Liu Chau or simply Pok Liu, is Hong Kong’s third largest island. Cars are not allowed in this small island, located only a twenty-minute ferry ride from the metropolis.
Lamma is inhabited by the descendants of ancient fishermen, a hundred families scattered in small villages. But it is also home to a significant community of foreigners who have moved here from Hong Kong preferring to stay away from the ordinary hustle and bustle of the big city.
After a short ferry ride, one finds the road that passes through the centre of the village of Yung Shue Wan. This road is lined with shops selling Southeast Asian handicrafts, and with several eastern and western restaurants.
After about twenty minutes walk, following a small path through the thick vegetation, one reaches a small monastery which is hidden among tropical trees. A group of nuns has lived here in prayer and silence for 17 years now. The sisters are from the Philippines and belong to the Franciscan Poor Clares Order. The monastery is called ‘Porziuncola’, a name which clearly evokes the tiny Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli where Saint Francis often remained in prayer. The convent, a Franciscan oasis, shrouded in silence, next to the big city, is home to eight sisters.
A few years before the Poor Clares nuns settled down in this place, an American priest, Father Francis Elsinger after experiencing factory work, decided to live as a hermit there. As a good hermit, Elsinger alternated prayer and manual labour in the vegetable garden. The place soon became a point of reference for numerous people, Christians and non-Christians, who were attracted by silence and contemplation. As soon as the Poor Clares Sisters arrived, on 20 September 2000, they introduced the practice of Perpetual Adoration, which was ensured jointly by the nuns, and a group of volunteers.
Sister Mary Anne S. Sevilla, superior of the community said: “We try to bring in our own little way the life of solitude and prayer. In our small chapel, Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel, we devote ourselves to perpetual adoration, regular Eucharistic celebration and the daily singing of the Liturgy of the Hours. Our tiny monastery is nestled on the top of a hill surrounded by mountains and the sea, the towering trees serve as our cloister wall and the birds and all other creatures our constant companions. This little spiritual portion is a sacred place where our relationship of intimacy with God is nourished. It encompasses all the activities of daily living in one place. Our Portiuncula Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament is where we celebrate the Eucharist and pray the Liturgy of the Hours and it is also the place where we work, study, receive guests, and live out our day to day lives; it is where we grow in charity and love and offer our gift of prayer with and for all creation.
The charism of Francis of Assisi has had a huge impact on the evangelization in China, since 1294,when the Italian Friar Giovanni da Montecorvino, became the first Catholic Bishop of the ancient capital Kambaliq (Beijing). In 1633, some twenty years after the death of Matteo Ricci – the modern scientist and humanist, founder of the modern missions in China – Franciscans, along with Dominicans, began to arrive at this large Asian country to preach to the people and dedicate themselves to the poor. Since then, Franciscans have always been operating in Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. In the latter city, there are also the Carmelite nuns, while the Trappists, a male monastic community, live at the Abbey of Our Lady of Joy in the island of Lantau. They brought into China the legacy of the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Consolation, which was destroyed by the Communist persecution that left 33 monks killed during the ‘March of death’ in 1947.
Over the years the Poor Clares of Lamma, have offered several Chinese women the opportunity to know and experience the contemplative life. One of them, Sister Myriam, from the Diocese of Baoding (Hebei), lives in the monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in the island of Palawan (Philippines), which is run by Mother Mary Ann. This monastery is also linked to this group of Poor Clares.
An important day for the Poor Clares is the day they commemorate the meeting between Clare and Francis of Assisi at the Porziuncola, and the establishment of the ‘second order’, now known as the Poor Clares. On that date, hundreds of faithful come to Lamma and spend an authentic Franciscan day with the nuns. The Poor Clares of Hong Kong is a real contemplative community, open to China and the realities of Hong Kong.