84 years in Hong Kong:
Making a difference
Drawing on the rich legacy left behind by its founders, the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) strives to empower the marginalised by offering scholarships to deserving students, funds to families in dire straits and support to the elderly. The League constantly seeks innovative ways to raise funds and help the needy -- without any government subsidy. CWL’s activities are funded by its flagship annual raffle, benefactors’ generous donations, and various charity events. It undertakes all these activities in the spirit of prayer and fellowship, inspired by Christ’s teaching that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”.
CWL was founded by two Irish women in 1937, drawing together English-speaking women of various nationalities to help the needy, regardless of their race or creed. Little is known about its activities prior to the Pacific War (7 Dec 1941 to 2 Sep 1945), and with the Japanese occupation, the League went into hibernation. As Hong Kong struggled to get back on its feet after the war, CWL returned to life.
In 1951, it established small-scale clinics, the first of which served homeless people squatting at Belchers Fort on Mount Davis. The League was also engaged in welfare work for seamen, acting as an ancillary to the Apostleship of the Sea – which explains the lighthouse in the CWL logo.
In the early 1960s, CWL ran seven free clinics in various parts of the then British Crown Colony, of which the sampan clinic called the Madonna is remembered even to date as an icon. A large number of patients were treated in these clinics in 1963, at a time when the Hong Kong government had yet to set up welfare and health agencies and when NGOs were as good as non-existent. Other notable charities included donating vans to charitable organisations, raising funds to build cottages for the poor, and fitting out two mobile canteens for emergencies during natural disasters for tens of thousands of refugees from the Mainland.
In the 1980s, CWL got permission from St. Joseph's Church for hourly raffles. Merchandise was brought to the church and “the bell” was rung after each mass for the winners. Raffle tickets were sold before each mass, and everything on sale was from members and their friends.
Over the years, CWL’s activities have changed with the times. Its major fund-raising event now is the annual raffle. For eight weeks around Easter, members sell raffle tickets at weekend masses across churches in Hong Kong. The funds are largely used to provide tuition subsidies and scholarships to as many as 50 underprivileged students from families with low or no income. In 2020, CWL extended its outreach to ethnic minority students.
Since 2012, the League has been awarding CWL Progress Grant to Sing Yin School students annually. So far about a 100 students have benefited for showing promising progress in academics.
CWL launched a Hardship Fund in 2016, thanks to generous donations from benefactors and funds raised at charity concerts. The Fund, which reaches out to families with extreme difficulties and in dire need of assistance, to date has supported about 70 families.
Prayer and fellowship play an integral part in CWL’s life. Members participate in a mass every Thursday at 10:30 am, followed by an Hour of Prayer and Benediction. Over the years it has drawn non-CWL members too. Members organise a fellowship potluck lunch every third Thursday of the month on the top floor of the Catholic Centre, which has become a huge draw. In June 2013, CWL launched an online Mothers’ Prayer group. Prayers are emailed every Thursday morning to participants, who pray at a convenient time and place.