Fr. Giampietro, internet apostle among Chinese diaspora, has died

An Italian PIME missionary, he ministered for 65 years in many parishes in Hong Kong. In 2005 he launched an online School of Evangelization in Mandarin and Cantonese. In 2019 he  involved artists and producers in a large musical about Matteo Ricci that attracted thousands of people.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - After 65 years spent as a missionary in Hong Kong, Fr. Gianni Giampietro, an Italian missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

His was a life-long apostolate and he was active to the very end in the community of St. John the Baptist in Kwung Tong, where he still resided, but also in the frontier of web-based pastoral care: in 2005 he had in fact started a School of Online Evangelization through which he organized online catechesis and evangelization paths in Cantonese and Mandarin, with a particular focus on Chinese in the diaspora who struggled to find communities that spoke their own language.

Born in 1934 in Marsicovetere, in the Basilicata region of Italy, and ordained a priest in 1958, Fr. Giampietro had arrived that same year in Hong Kong, then a British colony. During this long span of time, he ministered in numerous parishes: St. Margaret's Church in Happy Valley, St. Cecilia's Church in Diamond Hill, Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wan Chai, Our Lady of China in Tai Kok Tsui, Saints Cosmas and Damian Church in Tsuen Wan, Resurrection Mass Centre in Kwun Tong, before the last years spent in St. John the Baptist.

But Fr. Giampetro in Hong Kong is also remembered for promoting the spirit of the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council in the Diocesan Commission for Liturgy, which he also led. Despite his advanced age he had always remained very attentive to the languages of young people: with them in 2019 he had promoted a musical on the life of Fr. Matteo Ricci, the great Jesuit evangelizer of Ming Dynasty China. This initiative was the result of more than two years of work, in which the missionary involved famous producers, directors and actors from Hong Kong and Singapore, and which - brought to the stage - attracted tens of thousands of spectators.

"Ricci helped me to see the presence of God in the Chinese people," Fr. Giampietro had told us at the time. "Ricci, on the other hand, listened and learned from the Chinese, without confusing faith with European cultures. From him I learned to have a high regard for Chinese culture. Like Matteo Ricci I wish to spend my life for the Chinese, and to remain in this land until my death."

The school of evangelization itself had come about through Christian music. "Many young people in Hong Kong have relatives abroad," he recounted, "Sometimes almost the whole family. Through their contacts, these young music enthusiasts found that other Chinese youth were doing the same thing especially in Australia and New Zealand. After a few years of web contacts, it was decided to organize a concert with all these groups here in Hong Kong. Modern Chinese songs, but imbued with Christian spirit. It was a great success. So much so that our Hong Kong people later went to Canada. From there the EV Concert (Evangelization Concert) format was born: recitations, songs, sharing, testimonies. It was simply about doing evangelization, but through music with young people and for young people."  

Through these contacts, Fr. Giampietro and his collaborators realized that in many communities in the Chinese diaspora there were no catechists or other people able to accompany those who wanted to prepare for baptism.

Thus  the online school of evangelization was born: a two-year distance learning course that provides Catholic catechism instruction in the first year and concrete evangelization activity in the second. Each week material is provided for about three hours of study in total.

"It is not always easy for priests to accept this solution. They would like to see people physically every week," Father Gianni explained. "But in some cases it is not possible, especially for work or travel reasons. I remember a case in Australia. The person concerned was in jail for illegal immigration. He had met pastoral workers who were visiting the prison. But how could he have participated in the catechumenate in the parish? Not to mention all those whom parishes and catechists cannot reach."