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Veteran missionary retires after 58 years

By Gianni Criveller

 

On May 15, Father Antonio Garaventa, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), bade farewell to his community in Hong Kong to return to Italy.

At 83 years of age, he has given 58 years of generous service to the Hong Kong diocese. 

His health had taken a turn for the worst in the last few weeks and, following a dangerous operation at St. Teresa’s Hospital, he opted to retire to the well-equipped PIME home for the aged and infirm at Lecco, northern Italy. 

A string of visitors, friends and former parishioners came to bid Father Garaventa farewell. Many sent messages or telephoned.

He was particularly moved by a visit from John Cardinal Tong Hon, who was accompanied by vicars general, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung and the diocesan procurator, Father David Chan Kwok-fai.

The Italian consul general, Alessandra Schiavo, also called to wish Father Garaventa a safe return to his homeland.

Born in Genoa in 1928, Father Garaventa was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1953. After joining PIME, he arrived in Hong Kong on 26 October 1954.

After Cantonese studies in Cheung Chau he was assigned to a sgtring of parishes including Chuk Yuen (Wong Tai Sin); Sham Shui Po; Cheung Sha Wan; and St. Margaret Mary’s, Happy Valley; as well as Holy Family in Choi Hung.

He also worked in the missionary districts of Tai Po, Tai Long and Cheung Chau and was rector at Tai O from 1964 to 1970. 

He remembers the many hours walking to reach the most isolated Christian families, or to teach his catechumens.

Father Garaventa believes in simple and direct preaching of the good news to non-Christians and spared no effort in bringing new members into the Church. 

The longest portion of his missionary life (1973 to 1994) was spent in Sheung Shui, first as rector, then parish priest.

He is, in fact, the founding father of Sheung Shui, having dedicated much energy to building a solid Christian community and the Mother of Christ Church that everyone can now admire. 

After five years at St. Alfred’s in Shatin (1995 to 2000), he was afflicted by health problems and the effects of multiple surgery, and decided to retire to the PIME House in Clear Water Bay. His health may have been poor, but his spirit was strong, as he never thought of retirement as a time of rest or idleness.

He continued to receive people who sought spiritual advice or simply enjoyed his conversation. 

He would offer them copies of the books he produced in Chinese, some of them translations of stories and others his own compositions. 

Father Garaventa’s fluent tongue and competent reading and writing included classical Chinese, which gained the admiration and respect of many, who found inspiration and encouragement in his writing.

But he was especially happy to continue as confessor and preacher. He continued saying Mass at Rosary parish in Tsimshatsui each Sunday until his most recent illness.

We pray that Father Garaventa will recover good health and be able to serve Church and mission even in retirement.

Anyone travelling to northern Italy is welcome to pay him a visit. Two more Hong Kong veterans, Father Nicola Ruggiero and Father Melchiorre Arnoldi, are also living there.

In his emotional farewell speech, Father Garaventa promised to remember the PIME missionaries, as well as the Hong Kong Church and people in his daily prayers: we count on that! 

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