CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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First funeral for all the colony remembered

HONG KONG (SE): The funeral of Father (Joseph) Burghignoli is recorded as the first big function affecting not only the whole vicariate of Hong Kong, but also the whole colony, as his biographer notes that never before had so many non-Catholics been seen inside a Catholic church in the colony.

It was certainly the first big function to be held in the cathedral, the biographer of the Italian missionary records.

The priest from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), who died on 2 January 1892, was born in Bologna, Italy, and spent the whole of his priestly life in the British colony.

The PIME society held a remembrance service for Father Burghignoli, who was the long serving pro-vicar apostolic of Hong Kong, at St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley, where he rests in peace, on April 24.

Vicar general, Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, led the gathering in a memorial service at the cemetery, before proceeding to the cathedral from where he was buried.

The memorial service ended at the Canossian School in Caine Road, in remembrance of the great support Father Burghignoli gave to the congregation during its first years in Hong Kong.

A local newspaper noted at the time of his death, “His death will be mourned by the whole community, especially the poor of the Catholic Church, who had found him a true friend and a sympathetic lawyer.”

His biographer noted that his funeral was a demonstration of sorrow and of respect that made a profound impression.

“There was not a poor person in Hong Kong who did not mourn him.” his biographer notes.

Father Burghignoli was the right-hand man of Bishop Timoleon Raimondi and is regarded as the person who was able to complete the many plans made by the bishop and make his ideas and dreams come true.

The bishop laid the foundation stone of the cathedral in 1883, but he was away in the United States of America five years later when the grand church was consecrated by Bishop Charles Arsène Bourdon, the apostolic vicar of Burma. It was the reliable Father Burghignoli who brought the project to completion.

His funeral procession was described in detail as being made up of sisters, orphans, students from both Catholic and non-Catholic schools, their teachers and seminarians, who walked before the coffin, together with priests, public officials and prominent personalities from around town, Portuguese and Irish, Catholics and Protestants walked in silence.

“At the gate of the cemetery stood Bishop Raimondi, whose pain in the face showed that he had lost a dear brother, his right arm,” the description of the funeral reads.

Father Burghignoli’s obituary reads, “It is true that as we live we die. Father Burghignoli lived as a saint and so he died. In his last illness, not very long, but very painful, he gave to his confrères and to all those who attended him an example of patience and resignation to God’s will.”

Father Burghignoli came to Hong Kong in 1860 with the first group of Canossian sisters. He was their adviser and his biographer notes that he protected them in many ways from Bishop Raimondi, who created many difficulties.

At the time of his death, the superior, Mother Maria Stella, wrote, “The loss of such a friend is very painful for us. This house lost a pastor, a father, a friend, the helper of the poor and abandoned people. Everybody considers his death a calamity for this country.”

She added, “Prayer was the remedy he wanted to apply to every evil, to every need, and he set an example… At the bed of the sick and dying, not a useless word came from his lips, but he prayed and asked people to pray.”

Father Burghignoli lived under the motto of prayer and action. “Yes he used to tell us, spare not in any way, work for the Lord and for souls, face even death for him and with him. You will be happy in death and in eternity,” Mother Stella concluded.

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