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Banned in China but name up in lights

HONG KONG (UCAN): Liang Liang has named a restaurant he opened in Jiangmen City, Guangdong province, Franco Mella, after the Italian missionary from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, Father Franco Mella.

However, Father Mella has not been able to relish its culinary delights, as he has been barred from visiting China since 2011.

Liang got to know Father Mella when he was working in Jiangmen City during the 1990s.

“I got a chance to teach at the Jiangmen Radio and TV University as an English teacher around 1997,” 68-year-old Father Mella explained. “The school offered me accommodation in the same building as Liang’s family.”

In the eyes of Father Mella, Liang was a mischievous, but well-intentioned child. “He did not like to study,” he said. “But he was clever.”

Father Mella said, “Every night when I went home, I would buy some bread and cakes, or cook some noodles. Liang Liang and the other children would come to my place and eat.”

Even after he left town, Father Mella took time for the occasional visit to the Liang’s family, but when he was around 20, Liang went to Guangzhou to find work and ended up in an Italian restaurant.

“Once, I went back to mainland China from Hong Kong and I called Liang for a meal,” Father Mella said. “When I went to pay the bill, Liang stopped me and said, ‘No, Father, I will pay for you, because I have a job now.’ I was so happy he had found good work.”

After several years, Liang decided to open his own Italian restaurant and gave it the Italian name of Franco Mella in honour of his friend the Italian priest.

The restaurant has become quite famous in the district.

Father Joseph Liu, who works in Jiangmen, appreciates the food. “It is moving to see how they have used Father Mella’s name because of their friendship,” Father Liu said.

Father Mella has been refused entry to China since 2011 after he protested outside the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong against the detention of priests and bishops on the mainland.

“Thirty-one people involved in the Bridge Church Endeavour from Hong Kong and abroad were refused entry to China,” Sister Beatrice Leung Kit-fun wrote in the Journal of Contemporary China.

Father Mella finds it ironic that although he is banned by the Chinese government, he has his name up in lights in a busy street.

“I must go to Jiangmen and try the food at Franco Mella,” he said with a smile.

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