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No matter how tall the tree grows its leaves still fall to the ground

SYDNEY (SE): A landmark birthday celebration for 90-year-old Father Paschal Chang brought the Chinese Catholic community of Sydney, Australia, together for a gala dinner in Chinatown on February 12, to honour the life of the priest who, over the past 58 years, has done so much to nurture the faith among them.

Born in Jinan, Shandong province, on 16 February 1922, Father Chang was sent to Rome for studies and ordained for the Franciscans on 29 March 1949.

However, the advent of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China left him stranded in Europe, so he took up studies in education in Germany.

Sometime politician, former television weatherman and journalist, Mike Bailey, told the Sunday Examiner that Father Chang has carved himself a special place in the history of relations among Asian migrants to Australia.

Arriving in Sydney in 1954 with Father Leonard Hsu at the invitation of the then-archbishop of Sydney, Norman Thomas Bernard Cardinal Gilroy, to work among Asians studying under White Australia’s Colombo Plan, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Australian Catholic Chinese Community and the Catholic Asian Student Society.

As times changed, he was also behind the foundation of the Australian Catholic Chinese Community.

The Franciscan provincial in Sydney, Father Paul Smith, long time friend and supporter, Father Roderick O’Brien, from Adelaide archdiocese, and Father Kevin Muldoon paid special tribute to his life and work.

Bailey reported that as a sign of longevity, pine and cypress trees were presented at the offertory procession during a celebratory Mass in Cantonese at the Asiana Centre, a leafy, sprawling property in one of Australia’s most multi-ethnic suburbs in inner Sydney.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sydney’s The Catholic Weekly in 2008, Father Chang explained that there was only a handful of Chinese students in the city when he first arrived and few Catholics among them.

The Colombo Plan was introduced by the foreign minister, Richard Casey, in 1951, as the avowed British outpost had begun a massive immigration programme from Europe under what the local media dubbed its Populate or Perish policy.

Pressure was also building to maintain its white racial identity and newly-elected prime minister, Bob Menzies, introduced the Colombo Plan as a mechanism to keep Asians out by inviting them in, but temporarily.

Its ambition was to contribute to building a prosperous Asia by giving its education level a leg up and, at the same time, distracting beady eyes from the continent’s wide open spaces and scant population.

Father Chang calls it, “A good idea for those days.”

He said that he devoted a lot of his time to the students, as he regarded them as being extremely important.

He also bought the old mansion that forms the centrepiece of the Asiana Centre to act as a community gathering place and a home-away-from-home for Chinese Catholics and students.

Many students from those days still carry fond memories of the Sunday socials and outings, where they found good company and a chance to relax, reflect and adjust to life.

It also offered something precious to all students; low cost recreation and, for those living in a foreign land, good, guaranteed amenable companionship.

By the mid-1960s, it boasted a community hall and a language school. In the 1970s, when refugees began arriving in numbers from the Vietnam War, it registered a welfare agency and, in this century, a chapel was added.

In reflecting on his long years in the land down under, the boy from Shandong believes that today we need a spiritual Colombo Plan to create a greater awareness of mission among Australian Catholics and a greater sense of the universal Church.

“There is a mission in our midst,” the veteran of mission in Australia reflected.

“Once the Catholics of the west sent their sons and daughters as missionaries to Asia, particularly China, but now you have no missionaries, no vocations; not literally, but the fact is that Australia needs vocations happening in The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam; it means you can’t send missionaries to China,” The Catholic Weekly has reported him as saying.

Sydney archdiocese has always had a deep interest in China and before the seminary in Springwood was opened in 1910, it was redesigned slightly so that the main entrance would face the great, vast, mysterious Middle Kingdom lying half a world away from its northern coastline.

Father Chang believes that Catholics in Australia can still make a contribution to their brothers and sisters in China by working on their own shores with Chinese students, helping to spread the faith among them, so they in their turn may become missionaries in their own land.

He pointed out that one important contribution already being made is in the financing of qualified teachers for seminaries in China, as well as offering Chinese priests the opportunity to study in Australia.

Nevertheless, he says that he has seen great changes for good in his own lifetime and holds a strong hope for the future.

He explained that Chinese people living overseas are no longer an isolated race.

“We used to say that three blades depicted Chinese livelihood overseas; the kitchen knife, the tailor’s scissors and the barber’s razor. But today, because Chinese status has been raised… we have added the surgeon’s scalpel,” he explained.

As Father Chang notes, “No matter how tall the tree grows, its leaves still fall to the ground.”

He philosophically adds, “Wherever Chinese go their roots remain local. So we must help the wounded Church of China from here.”

The roots of the boy from Jinan are still firmly planted in Shandong. This was celebrated at the end of the dinner marking his auspicious age, with a rousing Lion Dance.

Ad multos annos Father Chang, from the Sunday Examiner.