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The saint who made China his home

HONG KONG (UCAN/SE): This year marks the 15th anniversary of the canonisation of St. Joseph Freinademetz of The Society of the Divine Word, and the society staged a musical to reflect the spirit of his mission in China the 140th anniversary of which will be marked next year
 
The musical was performed in Putonghua at St. Margaret’s Church, Happy Valley, in April, to mark the fifth anniversary of its Putonghua-speaking community, then in Cantonese at the Sai Wan Ho Civic Centre, Sai Wan Ho, on May 26 and 27. 
 
Father Joseph Tan Lei-tao, the producer, explained that the musical reflected the saint’s fire and his primary conviction that “love is the only language that everyone understands.”
 
Father Tan told the Kung Kao Po on May 24 that he hoped the musical would help promote respect for different cultures as well as sow the seeds of vocation in the Year of Youth  .
He remarked that St. Joseph’s integration into the culture of the Hakka in Hong Kong, as well as the people in Shandong province, was the main reason for his missionary success and that inculturation was the most important missionary principle that the saint learned as he matured. 
 
Ngan Lai Nor, the director and screenwriter of the musical, told Kung Kao Po that the musical highlighted the growth of St. Joseph from a young missionary thinking that the Western culture was superior, to a point of maturity where he could perceive the wisdom behind Chinese culture. 
 
The musical also featured the dances from Shandong illustrating the province’s rich history and there were many quotes from the Analects of Confucius, illustrating the saint’s love for Chinese culture.
 
Father Tan said the musical also showed that missionary work is not just about spreading the gospel in a particular place, as the local people also help the spiritual growth of missionaries—exemplified by St. Joseph desiring, at first, to bring the message of salvation to as many souls in China as possible, but later learning from Chinese people and even wanting to be Chinese himself.
 
Father Tan recalled that St. Joseph was based in Sai Kung until 1880 and set up a chapel on the island of Yim Tin Tsai in 1879. “He learned Cantonese and Hakka languages and dressed like a Chinese with a long beard and shaved his head with a braid behind,” he said.
 
St. Joseph was born in 1852 in Badia, then part of Austria but now in Italy, and was ordained in 1875. He was assigned to the community of San Martin de Tor, not far from his home. He always felt a calling to be a missionary and in 1878, with the permission of his parents and his bishop, he moved to the Society of the Divine Word, where he received training as a missionary.
 
In 1879, he and friend, Johann Baptist von Anzer, boarded a ship to Hong Kong, where he arrived five weeks later. 
 
In 1881, he moved to the Diocese of Lunan in Shandong province, northeastern China, where he was very active in the education of Chinese laity and priests and wrote a catechism in Chinese. During his 27 years in Shandong, the number of Catholics increased to 40,000 and another 40,000 were prepared to be baptised.
 
In 1908, there was an outbreak of typhus and he helped wherever he could until he himself became infected and died at the age of 56 in south Shandong, where he is buried.
 
“Modern people have shied away from suffering, but St. Joseph was not afraid. He left his comfort zone, made many sacrifices and came to an unfamiliar country to preach. This missionary fire is out of love,” said Father Tan. 
 
St. Joseph Freinademetz was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975 and declared a saint by Pope St. John Paul II on 5 October 2003.
 
The musical was sponsored by the Serra Club Hong Kong to encourage more young people to respond to the call of vocation during the Year of Youth. 

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