'Stay home' calls shunned by top officials Amid a chorus of calls for people to stay in Hong Kong this Christmas and spend to boost the economy, eight out of 12 ministers, plus Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, have been out of town these past two weeks. That has left the political newbies - the undersecretaries - holding the fort. Among those walking the tightrope is Florence Hui Hiu-fai, undersecretary for home affairs, who took up the post just two months ago. She has been standing in for her boss, Tsang Tak-sing, since last Monday. He does not return until Thursday, meaning she will have been at the helm longer than any of her colleagues. One minister who stayed put was Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong. This followed the embarrassing episode involving stranded Hong Kong tourists in Thailand, during which he was criticised for being out of town on business at the height of the crisis last month. 'He spent just a few hours in Shenzhen to play golf, then returned immediately,' a spokesman said. But government leaders can rest assured they will miss nothing that happens because of the new practice whereby civil service permanent secretaries attend the daily 'morning prayer' briefing if ministers and their undersecretaries are unavailable. 'With this new practice, nobody can say ever again that the top men are kept in the dark with no one in charge,' one undersecretary said. Activists mourn loss of Christian leaders While some pro-democracy activists are depressed at the impending retirement of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun - who has been an outspoken champion for universal suffrage and human rights - another familiar face will be missing from next year's July 1 march. The Reverend Ralph Lee Ting-sun, who has stepped down as honorary general secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, left Hong Kong for good last month and has settled in London. 'After spending so many years in Hong Kong, I am looking forward to a new experience of retirement in the UK, where most members of my family are living,' he said. The Methodist has been among the most high-profile Protestant leaders pushing for universal suffrage. But activists say his successor - the Reverend Po Kam-cheong - will continue the tradition as he, too, has firm views on social justice. Vatican sets sights on HK assistance With Cardinal Zen on the way out and Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon to succeed him next year, the process of filling the second tier in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese leadership is about to start officially. Church insiders say after a visit early this month by Archbishop Robert Sarah - secretary of the Vatican's worldwide missionary department - the Holy See will decide soon whether to appoint one or two auxiliary bishops to assist Bishop Tong. Frontrunners have already been identified by local Catholics, 'but the Vatican likes to be seen as being in charge' in a process that could take up to six months, a source said. Prices give elderly food for thought Ask anyone what they consider the top news story of the year, and the financial turmoil would definitely be on the list. But according to the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, the biggest concern of the elderly was the surging price of food. The party called on the government to introduce more measures in February's budget to help the elderly and disadvantaged groups .