04/04/2008, 00.00
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100th birthday of Fr Quirino De Ascanis, 75 years in China and Hong Kong

by Gianni Criveller
With the 150th anniversary of the PIME in Hong Kong, a celebration is also planned for the 100th birthday of Fr Quirino De Ascanis, who dedicated 75 years of his life to China and Hong Kong. Fr De Ascanis is a witness to all of China's recent history: the nationalists, the Marxists, the martyrs, the new openness. Here is how he is presented by the Sunday Examiner, the weekly paper of the diocese of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Fr Quirino De Ascanis, the dean of the PIME (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions), celebrates 100 years of life and 75 years of apostolate in China this year. He is the first PIME missionary to reach such an age, and we are particularly happy to celebrate this milestone in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first PIME missionaries in Hong Kong.

He has personally known the great majority of the 207 members who, in all these years, have set foot on Hong Kong in order to announce the Gospel.

Father De Ascaniis always tried to be useful to everyone, while he was physically able, and then not to be a hindrance in his old age. He is loved and appreciated by all for his genuine simplicity. If you read his memoirs or his spiritual reflections, which fill 17 notebooks, you will find you are fronting an authentic, and indeed, honest man.

Father De Ascaniis’ missionary life has not been easy. He lived through many difficult moments, especially during the almost 20 years he spent in the mainland districts of Wai Yeung and Po On between 1933 and 1951.

He had hard times in prison, was under house arrest, endured severe interrogation twice, was attacked by brigands and, occasionally, was face to face with violent death.

His time in mainland China was a period of high tension, in the middle of what he himself describes as many fires: the Japanese occupation, the Chinese nationalist aggression, the presence of communist guerrillas, the cruelty of the bandits and then the communist government. It was a time when it was all too easy to make a mistake which could cost you your life.

Father De Ascaniis stayed and moved around in that atmosphere with simplicity and evangelical guile, without even a thought of fleeing. He made the welfare of the Christians his priority.

Although he was suffering from poor health at the time, he faced every challenge and obstacle with courage.

Apart from his writings, he made a valuable and in-depth investigation into the murders of Father Emilio Teruzzi, Father Renatus Kwok and Father Francis Wong in Sai Kung in 1942. He himself served as pastor there from 1955 to 1961. He built the Sacred Heart church, which is still in use. Then, during the highly tense period following another tragic murder in Sai Kung, this time of Father Valeriano Fraccaro in 1974, it was the meek and mild Father De Ascaniis who was invited to fill the vacancy.

He later served as assistant priest in the Kowloon parishes of St. Teresa and Holy Rosary until 1993. He then retired, first to St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in Choi Hung and now is at the new home in Sheung Shui, lovingly assisted by the Little Sisters of the Poor to whom our sincere thanks go out.

Father De Ascaniis now spends his days offering his prayers and discomfort to God for his fellow priests and for the whole Christian community. To those who visit him, he offers a smile and a sense of serenity, which brings gratitude to the heart.

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