THERE ARE about 91,000 Chinese people living in Great Britain according to the latest census statistics — not all that many when you think of the profusity of Chinese restaurants and takaways.
The majority of Chinese immigrants come from Hong Kong, and they are, only found in larger numbers in the bigger cities — the "Chinatowns" of London and Liverpool, and in places like Birmingham and Glasgow. Apart from Hong Kong, others are from Taiwan, Uganda and South Africa.
London's "Chinatown" has about 30-40,000 Chinese with a concentration around the Gerrard Street area of Soho. Only about six per cent of these are Catholics (less than 2,000 people), so it is something of an achievement for this small Catholic community that they have succeeeded in securing their own permanent chaplain.
The new chaplain is Fr Louis Tchang. He came to England in May after a spell in Singpore as secretary to the Apotolic Visitor for Overseas Chinese, a post which involved keeping contact with a number of Chinese Catholic communities throughout the world.
The Apostolic Visitor's office moved to Rome. Fr Tchang said he preferred to get involved with active work for the Church, so they sent him to England.
Last week I found him happily making himself at home in his new premises below St Patrick's Church, Soho Square. It used to be the headquarters of Cafod, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, but they moved out in June, and Fr Tchang moved in during July.
Fr Tchang is undaunted by his new job. "I've done this sort of work before, in Montreal, Toronto and New York" he told me.
Fr Tchang is not familiar as yet with the London Chinese community though he made a brief visit to England two years ago with the Apotolic Visitor. But he introduced me to Mr. Peter Wong, a businessman who has been part of the community since 1963. "I'm one of the antiques" remarked Mr. Wong with a wry grin.
Mr Wong filled me in with the history of the community since he has been in London. It was far from plainsailing.
Until 1967, he said, there was virtually no contact between Chinese Catholics in Soho. Then the first chaplaincy was started by a Fr Orlando of the PIME Fathers (Pontificial Foreign Mission Institute of Milan). He secured the very same premises the new chaplaincy has reacquired below St Patrick's.
Fr Orlando returned to Hong Kong in 1969. After he left, the community was served by other PIME priests for a while, and by a Jesuit. By 1976 they had only the part-time services of a Salesian priest from Battersea. To make matters worse, they had no security of tenure at St Patrick's, which was let out to Cafod from 1974.
"We had no meeting place any longer so we had to wander from church to church" said Mr Wong.
Without the services of a chaplain, and no specific church or premises to relate to, they became attached in turn to London's Italian, French and Spanish churches.
"As international "As international communities, they were sympathetic to our problems. They gave us the use of their facilities as well as they could. But they had their own communities to serve and we were an extra burden on their resources" said Mr Wong.
Finally, he said, they approached the Westminster diocesan authorities to see if something could be done about getting a new chaplain and a permanent home. The diocese turned up trumps, fixing them up with Fr Tchang and their old premises at St Patrick's.
"I would like to pay tribute to the Westminster diocese for their efforts. They have been of invaluable help to us" said Mr. Wong.
Fr Tchang has already redecorated the premises with the help of the community. It is a labyrinth of cubbyholes and corridors, probably like the early catecombs, but it includes a good sized meeting room suitable for the occasional `House Mass'.
In addition to providing social facilities, the chaplaincy looks after the needs of students, "We also try to do some educational work" said Fr Tchang. "The children have no problems with English as they go to English schools. But we hold a language school in Chinese for the children, to try and maintain the culture."
"On Sundays, after Mass, the community can come downstairs for a cup of tea, and they often stay all day, taking part in discussions and group activities" said Fr Tchang.
A shelf of children's toys and teddybears in one room showed that the children were kept happy.
Fr Tchang said there used to be far more overseas students, but the enormous rise in fees has reduced the number considerably.
A chaplaincy next to "Chinatown" is ideal, but Fr Tchang said his area covers the whole of Greater London. "I'm trying to get around London to make contact with other Chinese Catholics" he said.
There are no absolute boudaries. Fr Tchang is happy to minister to Chinese Catholics anywhere in the country. But northern communities are effectively out of reach, and there is a possibility that another chaplain could be appointed to serve the Chinese community in Liverpool at some future date.