12/24/2013, 00.00
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From criminal to artist, a young Taiwanese discovers the "true freedom " of Christmas

by Xin Yage
Beili, 35, has spent 10 years in prison where he learned to paint. He now works with Fr. Barry, a well-respected Catholic artist, to produce religious stained glass and mosaics. And he goes back to jail but as an art teacher: "I thank God for all the gifts you gave me ."

Taipei ( AsiaNews) - The most beautiful Christmas gift is redemption after a difficult period . "I thought I was going to have to leave my parish without the hope of seeing a talented young artist mature here - says Father Barry (丁松青 神父, pictured with the young people of his parish and his works ) - although to be honest       I did not see him grow as an artist. He was an unexpected gift for Christmas 2013". The priest is speaking about a young Taiwanese man who , after a long time in prison, discovered a great artistic talent .

Fr. Barry has lived for almost forty years in the parish of Qingchuan (清泉) , an aboriginal Atayal village in the mountains of the province of Hsinchu (新竹 县) . He himself is a renowned artist of mosaics and stained glass especially with depictions of characters from the Bible and the history of the village. But to produce his art he has always been forced to call other artists from other parts of Taiwan. But now Beili , 35 originally from Qingquan , has returned home after ten years in prison. And in those ten years, under the guidance of a skilled teacher of painting, he first discovered and then cultivated and perfected, studying and practicing every day, the art of painting .

He is a talented portrait painter as well as landscapes and scenes of village life. Above all, he paints with great passion, getting up every morning before six to paint and now is working on a project for a series of paintings in the parish. He also received two other commissions by two wealthy inhabitants of the provincial capital.

He does not like to talk much , merely saying that for him painting is a great passion: "I love it and allows me to communicate what I have inside ," he says as he continues to refine the final details of the canvas that he has almost finished painting . "This is one of the cases in which re-education has been exemplary. If it was always like that, we should all go to jail for some time and learn something useful" jokes Father Barry .

After the Christmas holidays Beili will return to prison as a teacher of painting in order to pass his passion on to new inmates : "What I received , I wish I could communicate to others who may not yet know they have this talent." He said that he thought he could never be an artist after he was arrested for involvement in a alcohol fueled gang brawl that resulted in an accidental murder . Everything seemed to be over then without a future.

Instead it was in jail that Beili began to rediscover himself and was reborn: "One day they proposed painting classes which many dismissed because they thought it was a waste of time ," he says . "Instead I chose to do the course and it helped me find serenity and discover that I had a talent and a passion for art that surprised even me. I was also fortunate to have an excellent and patient teacher, who was able to motivate me in times of difficulty and accompanied me throughout my education".

Now Beili receives several commissions, first from Father Barry who entrusted him with paintings for the church and asks him to help in the windows that must deliver to other dioceses , but also from other wealthy people who commission portraits or paintings for their private homes. But he has not cut all ties with the prison where he spent ten years, has been in demand as a teacher. " I like it because I can pass on to the new students a passion for art. There is so much time in the prison  and if used properly can help people rediscover themselves and the gifts that the Lord has given them. For this Christmas 2013 I want to thank Jesus for everything that he gave me over the years. Now I am free , but the real freedom he has given me is the gift of painting that has allowed me to express my potential . "Everyone's life is different, sometimes following different and unexpected circumstances, when all seems lost and instead you are reborn". I have to thank all the people around me , especially my teacher in prison. Without him I could not have become what I am today".

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