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He dared to accompany people in the desert

HONG KONG (SE): Father Lancelote Miguel Rodrigues, whose memory will live long in the hearts of the tens of thousands of refugees who sought a safe haven in Macau from the end of World War II up until the 1980s, died at the age of 89 in Kiang Wu Hospital in the former Portuguese colony on June 17.

Although he may be just another name to members of Generations X and Y, who were born after 1980, to the older ones who can remember times and faces, he is still a household name.

Born in Malacca (modern day Malaysia) on 21 December 1923, he came to Macau as a 12-year-old for his high school studies before entering St. Joseph’s Seminary to do his formation for the priesthood during the troubled years of the Second World War.

However, as worldwide hostilities ceased and most of the world was celebrating its newly-found peace, Macau was becoming a safe haven for people who had fled the ferocity of the Japanese in Shanghai and were seeking to escape the encroaching armies of Mao Zedong.

The big influx came in 1948, as Father Rodrigues was preparing for ordination.

However, his heart was moved with pity for the lost souls on the run and he asked his bishop for permission to postpone priesthood to work among them in the newly-created camps at the Canidrome, in Tua do Gamboa and do Comércio.

With this decision, Rather Rodrigues was unwittingly setting a pattern that was to be the cornerstone of his priestly ministry.

What was described in Vox Parva as his altruistic spirit, led him to divide his days between giving a sympathetic ear to suffering and dashed hopes, while working with Catholic Relief Services and the United Nations to seek friendly doors for resettlement from foreign governments.

While no doubt he was hoping that time would stem the flow of refugees, it was not to be.

He was ordained on 6 October 1949, just five days after Mao proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.

The proclamation was to prompt fresh waves of refugees to pour into Macau.

He was appointed by the diocese as the chaplain to Portuguese refugees.

On the day of his death, the chief executive of Macau, Fernando Chui Sai-on, praised what he called Father Rodrigues’ philanthropic work among refugee and displaced peoples during his long life, especially the Portuguese returning from Shanghai.

The chief executive said that together with men like Father Luis Ruiz Suarez that Father Rodrigues helped to build a harmonious society by offering the basic necessities of life to those in need, regardless of who they were or where they had come from.

In later life, as the vicar of the parish of Santo Antonio, he showed that he also had the pastoral touch.

Hong Kong couple, Paul and Diane Hart, remembers him as warm and welcoming, full of sage advice and at ease when they approached him to celebrate their wedding ceremony.

Hart told the Sunday Examiner that his welcome to people in trouble had extended well beyond the Portuguese whose care was entrusted to him.

“It included Australians as well,” he explained, “and he was decorated by Canberra with an Order of Australia in recognition of his work.”

He was honoured by the Macanese Association on 25 November 2010 and was a Member of the British Empire. He also has been recognised by Prince Andrew of Yugoslavia and the Red Cross, as well as the Macau and Portuguese governments.

The University of Macau recommended him for an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities for his five decades of service to society.

A gracious host and lively dinner companion, he had the ability to lift the tenor of any gathering from the noisy to raucous.

But as a lover of music and blessed with a rich, deep voice, he could command attention in any sphere with his singing in English, Chinese or Portuguese.

Father Rodrigues was a talented musician and entertainer.

He inspired people in refugee shelters to put on their own entertainment on Saturday nights and got immense enjoyment out of their singing and dancing.

In later life he became the director of the Academia de Música de S. Pio X and it was not unknown that he would put his hand to the guitar when he found things a bit quiet.

He also taught Gregorian Chant at the seminary in Macau.

In his tribute in Vox Parva, Benedict Keith Ip eulogises, “He lived a simple life and worked ceaselessly. He dared to accompany and offered assistance to people in the middle of the desert. He brought faith to refugees to eliminate sadness and instilled hope for a better life.”

Ip calls what he describes as a life of kindness and tenderness the epitome of the Good Shepherd.

“He walked through many deserts and now he deserves a break from this secular world. Father (Rodrigues) was a true hero and will be remembered,” Ip concludes.

 

May he rest in peace.

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