by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When it comes to spreading the word of God’s plan for marriage and family, you’ve got to take every opportunity and go any distance.
And so when Father Matthew Habiger, OSB, had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong for 11 days in January, he packed his bags.
Father Matthew has been God’s indefatigable road warrior for life since he became a member of Human Life International in 1990 and eventually its president and chairman of the board.
“I’ve worked in over 55 countries promoting all the life issues,” said Father Matthew, a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. “I know what jet lag is.”
In 2003, he began working full time for Natural Family Planning Outreach, which is dedicated to countering the contraceptive and sterilization mentality of modern culture.
The opportunity to go to Hong Kong came at the invitation of John and Yrene Lewis, NFP teachers now living there.
John, who is a private pilot, and his wife Yrene formerly lived in Wichita. When he led the Diocese of Wichita, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted asked the Lewises to promote NFP among Hispanic Catholics.
“They’re great Catholics, and they saw a wonderful opportunity for promoting stronger marriages through NFP in Hong Kong, which is a very unusual part of the world,” said Father Matthew.
This was not Father Matthew’s first time in China. In 1999, he took part in a conference in South Korea, flew on to mainland China to visit Benedictine nuns at work in a hospital, and then on to Hong Kong.
Father Matthew received help for his latest visit to Hong Kong, from Jan. 9 to 21, from the Lewis family and the Hong Kong Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.
He celebrated Mass and preached one Sunday at the cathedral there and said a weekday Mass at nearby St. Joseph Parish. He gave presentations throughout the week to permanent deacons, NFP teachers, Catholic doctors and other medical personnel, and parish leaders. The next weekend, Father Matthew preached at three Masses at the Epiphany Parish center. The Lewises also gave their personal testimony after the Masses and at a conference.
“I would say [I received a] very positive reception all the way through,” said Father Matthew. “Everywhere, especially after Mass when you’d meet people, they were quite receptive and open to what I was trying to say.”
Although mainland China is famous for heavy-handed population control efforts, there are glimmers of hope.
“In mainland China there are 50,000 teachers of NFP, because the Chinese government invited Dr. John and Evelyn Billings from Australia to come to China and teach NFP,” he said. “They were trying to soften the brutality of the ‘one-child-only’ policy.”
Hong Kong has the lowest fertility rate in the world, only 1.1 babies per woman. The contraception usage rate there is very high at 75 percent, but it’s higher still in China — at 84 percent, according to Father Matthew.
Christians comprise only 12 percent of Hong Kong ‘s population of more than seven million people. Protestants outnumber Catholics 4-to-3. A large number of Catholics are Filipinos who came to Hong Kong for employment.
Faithful Catholics who practice and promote NFP can make a great contribution to all of China, believes Father Matthew.
“The Catholic faith stresses the basics of humanity — a deep relationship with God, integral human fulfillment, strong marriages, healthy and happy families, education, health care, productivity, patriotism and culture,” Father Matthew wrote in a post-trip reflection.
“Perhaps the greatest contribution Catholics can make in Hong Kong is to foster all these qualities, especially strong marriages and healthy families open to the gift of life,” he continued. “The Chinese people naturally respond to these values.”