Reverend Lancelote M. Rodrigues of Macau dead at 89

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 5:57am

Father Lancelote Rodrigues

Friends and colleagues from all walks of life packed Macau Cathedral yesterday to bid farewell to one of the city's most beloved religious figures, Father Lancelote M. Rodrigues, who diedJune 17. He was 89.

A household name in Macau for his dedication to philanthropy throughout his life, the Catholic priest had been ill in hospital for six months. The cause of death was determined to be heart and lung failure.

Optimistic, caring and humanistic in temperament, Rodrigues' larger-than-life character was a magnet for an enormous circle of friends. Hong Kong-based researcher Dr Jean Berlie was one of the many mourners who showed up to pay his respects.

"He kindly put me in touch with various refugees when I researched refugees in Southeast Asia more than 20 years ago," Berlie said. "We have been friends since then."

The director of Macau's Government Tourist Office, Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, said Rodrigues had dedicated his whole life to charity, helping the poor and underprivileged. "My heart shows the greatest reverence for him and his benevolence and I am deeply sorrowful about his passing," she said.

"I truly believe that Father Lancelote has set a loving example for the people of Macau, who will certainly praise and cherish him in their memories."

Rodrigues was born in Malacca, Malaysia, and after completing his primary school education in English he arrived in Macau in 1935. He had scarcely left the seminary in Macau as an ordained priest in 1949 when he was appointed protector and father-confessor to about 1,000 Portuguese refugees from Shanghai and Harbin.

Already overwhelmed by thousands of earlier arrivals, Macau authorities ended up housing the new refugees in a defunct greyhound racing stadium where they stayed under the grand stand, in vacant offices and even in empty dog kennels. Rodrigues had to contain anger from proud Portuguese families forced to live in such appalling conditions. The experience taught him improvisation and resilience.

Over the next 16 years he was responsible for the resettlement of about 2,000 Portuguese refugees to countries such as the US, Brazil, Australia and Angola, and eventually had a hand in relocating people from half a dozen Southeast Asian nations. This gave rise to his nickname the "Priest of Refugees". Every year many of the people he had helped would return and visit him to express their gratitude.

In 1962, Rodrigues was appointed director of the secretariat of the Diocesan Services for Social Welfare in Macau.

From there, he obtained financial aid from overseas to advance social welfare for Macau, extending assistance to the underprivileged and disadvantaged minorities.