CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 August 2017

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Anything was possible for Uncle Jerry

TAIPEI (SE): Uncle Jerry, a group from the team of the People’s Republic of China called out when they saw the face of Father Jerry Martinson in a shopping mall in San Diego during the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984.
 
A well-known face across China from his long-running bilingual television series screened across both Taiwan and China, in which as Uncle Jerry he shared his insights with children learning English, had made him a celebrity in both places.
 
Produced by the Kuangchi Programme Service, it was one of the successful productions of the Catholic media service, which has been an important part of the Church’s public face in Taiwan, and its contribution to the media in China over recent years has given it an increasing significance in the overall mission to the Chinese world.
 
So the passing of one of its superstars on May 31 is not only a news item in Taiwan, but across China as well.
 
Father Martinson was in San Diego visiting his ailing mother when he wandered down to that shopping mall and provided the Chinese Olympians with their brush with fame.
 
But his well-deserved status as a giant of Catholic media and Chinese television masked an understated manner that belied his continuous achievements over 50 years from an unpromising base in Taiwan.
 
In a tribute published on UCAN, his Jesuit confrère and fellow media priest in Asia, Father Michael Kelly, says that Father Martinson knew well that his time would be shorter than many among us and, as he told his friends, he wasn’t afraid of dying. His heart and blood pressure issues eventually had their way.
 
He believed in the resurrection and faced his own demise with confidence. But Father Martinson also knew he would not be making old bones.
 
He felt himself so connected with the local people that in his application to become a citizen of Taiwan he wrote his surname, Martinson, as Ding in Chinese. 
 
He was due to receive his Taiwan identity card from the Ministry of Interior on the day after he died, June 1, in gratitude for his long-standing service.
 
Father Martinson was born in 1942. He arrived in Taiwan in 1967 and was among the last of the Californian Jesuits to come to the China Mission.
 
California was the last Jesuit province to make a commitment to the world of the Middle Kingdom.
 
Jesuits from California first came to China in the mid-1930s, but kept sending their members to work among the Chinese long after their initial missionaries were expelled from China, following the victory of Mao Zedong in 1949 over the Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-shek.
 
Father Martinson and his colleagues at the Kuangchi Programme Service presided over the development of what began in the 1950s as a shortwave radio service, but grew into the first independent television production company in China.
 
He shared the presidency of the service in the 1970s and 1980s as it developed top rating programmes for Taiwan and moved into the field of co-productions with partners in the mainland, especially in Nanjing and Shanghai.
 
These relationships culminated in a trilogy of programmes on some of the great figures in Catholic missionary endeavours in China—Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall von Bell and Giuseppe Castiglione.
 
But Father Martinson’s missionary activities extended well beyond China. He was blessed with a gracious and engaging personality. His good looks not only worked well on the screen, but also in the way he was attractive to so many people.
 
And he was no more animated and magnetic than when teaching, which he did in seminars and media training sessions across Asia.
 
In his focussed and deeply personal attention to students, seminarians, sisters and diocesan officials developing videos for their programmes and websites, Father Martinson was the epitome of full attention.
 
This was only one reflection of the still, silent core at the heart of his being. Nurtured in daily contemplation in the Ignatian tradition, he had a serenity that radiated the calm confidence that anything was possible.
 
And he needed it. A prophet is often not recognised in his own land. Father Martinson had to contend with the obfuscations of Chinese bureaucrats intent on scuttling his projects and, at times, the incomprehension of Jesuit superiors without the imagination or courage to travel with him as he sought to do the good he knew he could.
 
Beneath this sunny Californian lurked the steely determination of a man on a mission.
 
And it was God who began the good work in him as an 18-year-old who joined the Jesuits in 1960 and brought him to completion in the lasting legacy of his abundant productivity.
 
May his creative soul rest in peace.

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