In the April issue of "The Messenger" I wrote in "Cancer Wards" about a
boy of twelve from China called Tin Tin. At the time of writing he was dying of cancer. He had been baptised soon after he entered hospital in Hong Kong. His mother was very grateful to the Catholic Pastoral Team for their care of Tin Tin. She said that when she returned home she would find the Church and start instruction for baptism.
Tin Tin grew gradually weaker. The end came on a hot summer day in July 1999. Early that morning he was obviously dying. His father reached the hospital in the morning and his grandfather in the early afternoon. Two members of the pastoral team were present and I joined them just before the grandfather arrived. Tin Tin was lying in his mother's arms as he had been for most of the previous few days. We prayed for a while but soon fell into a kind of stupor, compounded, perhaps, of tiredness, grief and apprehension.
Tin Tin's heart beats were being monitored by a lead attached to the tip of one of his fingers. Tin Tin was pale and still, but we could notice no change. Suddenly, we were catapulted out of our stupor. The machine was telling us the story. Dramatically the counter began to unwind, spinning rapidly backwards, speeding up as it went, just like the counter on a tape-recorder as the tape rewound. I watched in a kind of disbelief. Tin Tin was going. A human life was running down.
I tried to lead a prayer but failed miserably. Tin Tin's mother called his name in alarm, sharply and repeatedly. Someone rushed out. A doctor and nurse came immediately. The monitor reached zero. Nurse and doctor checked quietly and reverently and confirmed lie was gone. They told us gently we could stay as long as we liked.
Tin Tin's mother held him close. We all cried for a bit. Soon, however, and, almost as if by agreement, we began to go about the ordinary welcome tasks of such a moment, relieved, I think, that Tin Tin's long ordeal was over.
A few days later, before the cremation I held a simple ceremony in the grim hospital morgue. The night before they went home, Tin Tin's parents came to Ricci Hall to a Mass for Tin Tin. They were composed and grateful and invited us to visit them in their home village.
In May, Bernadette of the Pastoral Team arranged a visit to the area around Tin Tin's village. I was in the group and, naturally, Tin Tin's family was high on our visiting list. There were a few tears when we met but soon we were having a very happy, even jolly time together. We went to meet Tin Tin's great-grandparents. Great-grandfather is a sprightly eighty eight years of age, still riding his bicycle. Great-grandmother is not quite so active, but she can get around on her own. We had snacks and admired the chickens and the pigs and the rice growing almost to the door. We even saw the old family home built by Tin Tin's great-great-grandfather.
Next morning, Sunday morning, we went to Mass in the nearby town. Tin Tin' mother, father, sister, aunt and cousin were kneeling in the church when we arrived. All are now receiving instruction and hoping to be baptized next year. It should be said that the decision to be baptised must have been a difficult one for them. The church in that area is a church of the disregarded and unimportant. Its a simple church, a poor church. No power or "pull" there.
After Mass, in the narrow passage between Church and presbytery, we sat down to a breakfast provided by Tin Tin's family. The center-piece was a roast-pig from great-grandfather's farm. We were touched by the generosity of people who, through circumstances beyond their control, are going through a hard time financially.
We drove back to Hong Kong first through bright green rice fields and fish ponds, bordered by banana trees and then, unfortunately, through ugly, soulless factories, stretching for miles down to the border with Hong Kong.
We entered the New Territories of Hong Kong as the setting sun was lighting up the hills around Starling Inlet. It has been an unusually damp spring. The luxuriant vegetation, the trees, the hills, the placid sea were startlingly beautiful. I was entranced by the loveliness of a scene I had grown used to. But as our bus neared the city my thoughts returned to Tin Tin and his family. Surely he must be praying for them. They need his prayers and ours as they face a testing, perhaps lonely and isolated future.