Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: obituary
Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00

Giving Thanks for the Testimony of Cardinal Shan

Cardinal Paul Shan passed away in New Taipei City on August 22, 2012.

The emotion created in Taiwan by the death of Cardinal Paul Shan has been deep and far-reaching. Obviously, the voice of Cardinal Shan was heard and loved well beyond the frontiers of the Catholic community. The Cardinal is and will be missed by men and women of many faiths and ways of life. I see at least three reasons behind the respect and admiration that had been surrounding him all these years:

First of all, during the last part of his life Cardinal Shan had led his struggle against cancer in peace and openness, sharing about it in a way that was speaking to everyone: we are all being confronted to illness, suffering and our own mortality. Finding the words for describing such experience with both sincerity and modesty is not easy task. Cardinal Shan was not a man of exaggerated feelings, he never staged his struggle, but he did not hide its hardships either. The inner peace radiating from his words and behavior was genuine – and all who came in contact with him experienced such genuineness.

Second, Cardinal Shan was transformed by the experience of illness, and - even before this time - by the very fact of meeting and working with a large number of people very different in background and beliefs. The way he continuously shared about life and death with people of other religions was certainly the fruit of his openness: he was meeting people on what is essential, what is common to our human condition. Through his sharing he let two different experiences become one and the same: the experience of illness, and the experience of meeting people of other faiths – the two were part of the same transforming process. God was revealing himself to him both in his suffering body and in the people he was encountering when sharing about the coming of death. Being transformed is always a humbling experience, and I think it is his humility, fostered both by illness and by interreligious dialogue, that ultimately touched most the heart of the people of Taiwan.

Finally, there is a feature of Cardinal Shan’s life and behavior that has been an important t reason for his popularity: he was very clear and simple in everything he was communicating. Some people may even at times disagree with what he was thinking or planning, but the simplicity of the principles that were guiding him and the clarity he was giving to their expression were striking to everyone. Clarity is the characteristic of a very gifted communicator – and Cardinal Shan was very gifted at communication, not because he was using special techniques, just because he was very direct, because he was always aiming at what was essential to him.

The emotion created by his disappearance shows to us how much Taiwan expects his spiritual leaders to be men of simplicity, clarity and openness to others. Taiwan expects from religious leaders a testimony of life, not long discourses and divisive behaviors. Actually, the great Christian or Buddhist figures who have inspired Taiwan from the eighties onwards are now aging or have already disappeared. A new generation of religious leaders may slowly emerge, but it will have to rely on courage in action, simplicity in language, and veracity in behavior. The example of Cardinal Shan will continue to inspire all these who are in charge to lead and to advise others along their spiritual path.


Photo courtesy of  Weshare Education and Charity Fund


Monday, 22 November 2010 18:09

A pioneer of inter-religious dialogue

As with Father Jean Lefeuvre, Father Albert Poulet-Mathis is one of the first Jesuits I met when I first came to Taiwan during summer 1982. It was difficult for me to figure out exactly what was his work was as he had an office outside the house where we were living. His work for the Federation of Asia Bishop Conferences in the field of inter-religious dialogue sounded a little mysterious to me. My stay was quite short but Father APM managed very kindly to invite me to his friend’s house on a couple of occasions. Later, after I settled down for good on the island, I realized that his work was indeed of great importance. But as the Catholic Church is really a minority in the religious world of the island, I somehow had the feeling that while his concern was for sure admired, it was also shared with reservations by other colleagues, as the care for the little Christian flock seemed always to be the priority of the priorities.

But now I realize that his contribution was a real gift not only to the Catholic Church or to all the religious groups in Taiwan, but also to the society in Taiwan as a whole.

In the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, what APM did in Taiwan was indeed the right thing to do for the Catholic Church in Taiwan. His initiative of inter-religious dialogue came at a time when the Catholic Church arrived somehow en masse from the mainland and had started to grow roots into Taiwanese soil. From a Catholic point of view nothing can be lost from a deeper understanding of other religious traditions and spirituality. The cheerful personality of APM, his charisma for making friends and bringing people together really did help many persons of good will and from very different backgrounds to cherish and keep the atmosphere of mutual respect among the different religious groups in Taiwan.

In this regard the work of Father APM in Taiwan has been of great importance. He has been a pioneer. Hopefully this task of promoting inter-religious dialogue will find a second breath and will bring deeper and more concrete experiences. The achievements of Father APM and his friends in this regard show that Taiwanese society is able to draw from its riches and diversity to innovate and move forward from a troubled past. The work of Father APM spanned during a period when various constituent groups of this society have been facing a new situation and also have confronted each other. May his efforts in the field of inter-religious dialogue be also a sign for the future of Taiwan!

(Photo provided by the Tien Center)


Friday, 06 February 2009 01:34

Remembering Master Sheng Yen

This morning I prayed for the followers of Master Sheng Yen.

Master Sheng Yen’s passing will be mourned by many in Taiwan and throughout the world—including his many friends and admirers in the Catholic Church—but it will be feIt especially by his disciples.

I prayed that his disciples might be comforted as they adjust to the painful departure of their beloved Master. Even good Buddhists, whose beliefs and practices help them overcome their desires and emotions, are still human beings and need time to process the loss of someone so close and important to them as Master Sheng Yen.
But I prayed especially that these students and disciples of his might continue the work and spirit of their teacher. Master Sheng Yen had a unique, humble, and effective way of imparting wisdom and peace to others.

We met many years ago on the set of a TV talk show hosted by Lee Tao and broadcast live by CTS on Sunday noon. I was a bit nervous because I had never spoken with Master Sheng Yen and was worried that I might not understand his Buddhist terminology, or that I might inadvertently say something inappropriate and offend this revered Buddhist teacher.

But my fears were unfounded. After a few minutes of conversation and discussion, I could sense Master Sheng Yen’s profound good will and gentle warmth. He smiled at the stories of my sometimes awkward experiences in Buddhist temples or with Buddhist friends. He nodded approvingly when I related how Zen meditation had become an important part of my spirituality and prayer life. He shared my desire that religion play a leading role in improving the moral life of the people and the healthy development of society.

As the program was ending, after bidding good-bye to the audience, Master Sheng Yen rose and came towards me. I felt drawn to him like a magnet and had to restrain myself from giving him a big, Italian-style hug. (I know that Buddhist monks are very restrained in physical expressions of affection.) Still, he reached out and grasped my arms in a warm expression of friendship. And there we were, before a large TV audience—a Buddhist monk and a Catholic priest—locked in an embrace of mutual friendship and respect.

There were many others happy meetings and experiences with this extraordinary spiritual leader. After our program at CTS, Master Sheng Yen visited us at Kuangchi Program Service to learn how TV programs are produced. I was honored to join him in his multi-media campaign on "protection of the spiritual environment" ("心靈環保"). He chose Kuangchi to help him produce his TV program series. Last year, once again he came to our studios to film a series of TV commercials on social morality.

That was the last time I saw my good friend and mentor—Master Sheng Yen. Even while suffering from kidney disease, he had the same bright spirit, peace and warmth that has inspired so many.

So I hope you will understand and forgive me if I permit myself a few tears as I pray for this spiritual Master and all his followers, asking my God that He keep the bright light of Master Sheng Yen shining on us in this world, as he passes on to another.

Photo courtesy of KPS


Wednesday, 07 January 2009 22:47

Bob Ronald has left us.

Robert J. Ronald, S.J. died January 2, 2009 at Cardinal Tien Medical Center in Taipei, at the age of 76. He was a Jesuit for 58 years and a priest for 43 years. The readers of eRenlai who have been reading his fables and essays knew him as "Bob."

Fr. Bob was born in Martinez, Calif., on October 1, 1932. He attended the Jesuit school, Bellarmine College Prep, in San Jose, California graduating in 1950. Influenced by one of his freshmen teachers, Mr. Albert Klaeser, S.J., soon to be assigned to China. Bob applied to the Jesuits and was accepted into the novitiate on August 14, 1950. He had a strong desire to do missionary work and petitioned the Provincial to be sent on several occasions: “Even before I went to Bellarmine I felt attracted to the missions and that desire has remained with me in varying degrees since then.” His wish was granted and at the completion of his philosophy course at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington in 1957, he followed in the footsteps of his former teacher to Asia. Fr. Klaeser was later to become Bob’s Jesuit Superior in Taiwan.

While studying Mandarin in Hsinchu, Taiwan, Bob was stricken with polio in September 1958. He received a further setback when, while being prepped for orthopedic surgery in the U.S., he suffered cardiac arrest and had to be cut open for doctors to resuscitate his heart. He made a slow and painful recovery, receiving therapy at Warm Springs, Georgia. After two periods of strenuous therapy, he made a remarkable recovery and was assigned to Bellarmine Prep to teach public speaking and debate for a semester. All remarked on his constant good cheer and indomitable spirit. His attitude was reflected in his statement: “I am healthy. More healthy than before polio even, just limited in local motion, that’s all.” He was determined to go back to China and was able to resume his languages studies in Taiwan in 1961. He studied Theology in Baguio City, Philippines, 1962-66, and was ordained a priest on May 9, 1965.

Fr. Bob returned to the States in 1968 and worked on a M.S. degree in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Arizona. He interned at hospitals in Phoenix and was able to get around in a van specially equipped with hand controls and a lift gate. He returned to Taiwan in December 1971 and took up a post as a consultant at the Veteran’s Hospital in Taipei, a position he held until he retired in January 2002. At the same time, he organized and led his own organization, Operation De-Handicap, to provide follow-up vocational counseling and referral services for the disabled. In addition to working with individuals, Bob produced manuals for those working with the handicapped and their families, taught classes and workshops, and gave presentations at international conferences on rehabilitation throughout the world. The organization’s philosophy stressed helping persons to help themselves and assume the ultimate responsibility for their own rehabilitation. The role of the family in the rehabilitation program was also stressed.

In 1974, Bob suffered major injuries in a head-on collision and remained in critical condition for some time. He was able to resume his work, but a year later, an infection set in and his left leg was amputated above the knee. Still, Bob remained undaunted, continued his work and was able to visit foundations and benefactors to support his organization, including a 13,000 mile van trip around the U.S. lecturing and raising money. He continued his writing, counseling, and teaching. His books went through many revisions and printings and were distributed gratis. Over the years the focus of Operation De-Handicap has shifted from those recovering from polio to those coping with other disabilities, especially muscular dystrophy. Bob also devised a computerized pictorial vocational interest inventory test for use with the retarded and those with limited literacy.

Over the years Bob has been recognized as a national authority on rehabilitation in Taiwan and has received government and private awards for his work. His work has been instrumental in bringing those with handicaps into the mainstream of society throughout Asia and will continue to do so in the future through the capable hands of Bob’s associates. He was well aware of the apostolic dimensions of his work. “Though I seldom have the occasion…to explicitly introduce God or the Church, my identity as a priest and as a Jesuit is nearly universally known and my motives respected.”

After retiring from more than 30 years of service at Taiwan’s Veterans’ Hospital, Fr. Bob volunteered to work at Jesuit-run Kuangchi Program Service in Taipei. There, he wrote and corrected English scripts for KPS productions. During his final years, he became a prolific writer of editorials, poems, and fables for the Jesuit monthly Renlai. Many of his writings can be found on the publication’s electronic website Renlai plans to collect, edit and publish Fr. Bob’s writings in book form.

Fr. Bob will be remembered for his deep spirituality and persistence in adversity; he saw his physical setbacks as opportunities for service to others. He often amazed people by claiming that the two greatest gifts he had received from God were his polio affliction and his car accident, because these sufferings taught him so much and enabled him to help so many people with similar afflictions.

Fr. Bob’s kind and joyful disposition, his positive outlook, and deeply human spirituality made him an excellent spiritual director for Jesuits and lay people alike. Bob’s care provider of the last seven years claims that Fr. Bob changed his life through his kindness and patient companionship, always reaffirming and encouraging, never scolding, criticizing or complaining.

Although Fr. Bob has now left this world and his beloved Taiwan, his love of life, his strong and determined spirit, and his compassionate heart will continue to inspire and give hope to all who knew him for years to come. May he rest in peace.

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