CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Faithful to the end

HONG KONG (SE): On 9 October 1947, a young Father Michele Pagani, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), boarded a ship in Italy bound for Hong Kong.

Born in Lurago Marinone, Como, on 20 August 1920, he was ordained a priest on 18 December 1943, after studies at the Little House of the Divine Providence, in Turin, which was founded by St. Luigi Orione (1872 to 1940), and taking out a baccalaureate in theology from the Angelicum University in Rome.

Father Pagani spent the years during World War II working in parishes around Italy, first in Acquate, Lecco, and then in an isolated area of the Apennine Mountains, in the diocese of St. Sepulcher.

After the wartime hostilities had abated, he joined the Milan-based missionary society on 26 September 1947.

His first appointment after arriving in Hong Kong was with Father Lido Mencarini in the district of Hoifung, after which he moved to Shanwei to study the local dialect at St. Joseph’s church until the end of 1948.

He later became an assistant in the joint districts of Shanwei and Jiansheng, living at Tinggian.

He became a familiar sight, trudging from village to village by foot or sometimes riding a bicycle, until the area came under communist control and authorities in Huizhou detained him on 6 February 1951. He was later moved to a small hotel in Hoifung City.

However, he had good PIME company, as he was held with Bishop Lorenzo Bianchi, Father Luciano Aletta and Father Raffaele Della Nina.

The three priests remained in detention until they were deported to Hong Kong, arriving on 6 June 1952.

Father Pagani was not the only one from the Shanwei and Jiansheng districts forced to seek refuge in Hong Kong, as many of his former parishioners and acquaintances were among the thousands of refugees who flooded across the border into the then-British colony.

Hong Kong brought the challenge of a new language and Father Pagani spent time living at Rosary parish in Tsim Sha Tsui studying Cantonese, while at the same time doing some chaplaincy work at the nearby Shun Tak School.

In 1953 he moved to what was fast becoming a huge challenge for the Church in the territory, providing for the pastoral needs of refugees from the mainland. He served people at the Diamond Hill Refugee Centre, until he was called to the diocesan curia as the archivist and later vice chancellor.

He continued his work with the archives from 1969 until 1993, by which time he was also a consultant to the diocesan authorities.

Those who worked with him remember him as meticulous, making careful preparation for everything that he undertook. He spent long hours filing and auditing, taking great care in compiling the annual statistics of activities in the diocese.

In later life, he continued his contact with the people he met during his first appointment to Hoifung.

He remained a well-known face around the cathedral parish, where he celebrated the sacraments in both Cantonese and English, while serving as chaplain at the nearby Canossian Convent.

Until poor health prevented him, he also travelled each Sunday to Wong Mo Ying, in the Sai Kung area, to celebrate the Eucharist for the local people.

To the end of his life, his erect demeanour still bore the mark of the dapper man revealed in the photographs taken in his younger days and his friendly smile and welcoming greeting will be missed by the many people whom he served each week.

A man of great hospitality, visitors to the cathedral remember him with fondness and any guest who dropped in could rely on an espresso coffee and a drop of something stronger, if they so desired.

He was a great family man, keeping close contact with his sister, as well as his nephews and nieces, and his constant reference to them in his conversation betrayed the closeness he felt with them all.

Father Pagani succumbed both gradually and graciously to failing health and marked his 92nd birthday in a state of only partial awareness.

He died on the morning of September 13 in the Caritas Canossa Hospital.

Father Pagani was buried from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on September 19.

A requiem Mass was celebrated by the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, his predecessor, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, and his fellow PIME priests and priests of the diocese. 

He was laid to rest in St. Michael’s Catholic Cemetery, Happy Valley.

May he rest in peace.

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