One recent, sunny afternoon, I visited a Catholic priest called Father Giosue Bonzi. He lives in a flat in Ho Man Tin, and when I arrived he brewed some formidable Italian coffee and produced a cake, and we sat at his dining table under a transparent, blow-up globe of the world, which stirred slightly in the warm breeze. There were photographs on every available surface of the flat, including a large one of a smiling woman on the wall opposite. 'That is Ah Ming,' said Father Bonzi, who still has a distinctive Italian accent after 34 years in Hong Kong. 'She passed away in May. Would you like to hear her?' He put on a tape, and in a moment the room was filled with a singing voice. 'Chiu Chow songs,' explained Father Bonzi. 'Practically nobody understood them but it was very joyful, she was singing even at two in the morning the night before she died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She had Down Syndrome, she was 40 and she did not have a strong heart.' Ah Ming lived with Father Bonzi, and a house mother and five other mentally disabled people (three male, two female) in the flat. She reaped the benefits of a concept called Casa Famiglia, which means 'family home' in Italian. The Ho Man Tin flat was its first example. It opened in November 1997, and a second one, in a residential block at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, followed in August 2000. A third one will open next spring. All three come under the umbrella of the Fu Hong Society, which used to be known as the Society Of Homes For The Handicapped, of which Father Bonzi was a founding member in 1977. 'Fu means to assist, to support,' he explained (he is a fluent Cantonese speaker). 'Hong means the state of well-being.' Father Bonzi's support, therefore, is of the most all-embracing kind: Casa Famiglia is his home too. 'This place where you are now,' said Father Bonzi, glancing around the room (pleasantly cluttered, as distinct from the average institution as coffee is from disinfectant), 'this is a way to achieve inclusion in the community. These people are orphans, they have lost their parents or nobody cares or they're from a broken family. As adults they're confined to hostels without a chance to have a home. I started Casa Famiglia to give them a new family. They are like brothers and sisters.' Is he the father? Father Bonzi looked up at the photograph of Ah Ming and smiled. 'On paper, my role is elder brother. This one ... she disobeyed, she called me daddy.' The phone rang; it was the driver of the bus that was taking home three men who had spent the day at a training centre run by the Fu Hong Society. Rose, the house mother, went down in the lift to meet them and when she returned, the trio naturally gravitated to Father Bonzi. Two of them, with Down Syndrome, embraced him, and the third stood by his side, tensely alert, watching from under his eyebrows. 'This is Wong Yung, he was found wandering alone in Chater Road in 1980. His name was given to him by the police, and they had to guess his age - we think he's 35 now. We had a problem getting a passport for him.' Father Bonzi smiled and pointed to a photograph of Wong Yung, triumphantly holding a passport, which was on the window ledge. 'We went to Italy last year, five of us from this family - Ah Ming couldn't go because of her heart.' Wong Yung cried out something. Father Bonzi said, 'He's asking for a Christmas card. Every day he asks and when I ask him to sing, he sings Jingle Bells. When he was abandoned, he must have been really hungry and scared of being alone. Probably he suffered a lot. I think it must have been at Christmas.' Perhaps he thinks you're Father Christmas, I suggested (looking at the immaculately trimmed white beard and shrewd, twinkling eyes), and Father Bonzi laughed and said 'All of us are!' While the others went off to wash before supper, Father Bonzi talked about his own background. He is the second-youngest of eight children and his father died when he was five. When he was 12, he went to the seminary. 'It was a trauma - too young, no? I started to live in a hostel, so after that I lived with my normal family a few weeks a year.' He came to Hong Kong in 1967 with the Italian PIME missionary fathers. In 1977, Father Enea Tapella, who had worked with the disabled here, was killed in a motorbike accident at Repulse Bay. Father Bonzi was with Father Tapella at Queen Mary Hospital as he was dying. 'You ask if there was a shift in my life? There was. The first Father Tapella home opened after a few months.' Early referrals were from other priests. 'One told me about two girls in extremely poor conditions on a housing estate, if you saw them you would cry. One was with the old mother in one room, she was tied to the leg of a table like a dog. The other girl was in an even worse state, with wounds on her head and body where her sister had injured her.' Then the Social Welfare Department (SWD) stepped in. 'They showed me thousands of names and said they needed someone to take on a project.' Thus, the Society of Homes for the Handicapped was born. In 1977, it served seven disabled people; in 2001, it helped 1,896 in homes, hostels, training centres and workshops. The Fu Hong Society still receives generous funding from the SWD, but the Casa Famiglia project is entirely self-funded and needs donations to open other homes. I was struck reading about Father Bonzi's early life, by the poignant and unexpected realisation that it has also provided domestic comfort for him. 'Before I came here, I spent 12 years living in a hospital,' he told me. 'I was alone. I longed to share my life with them.' I asked how the last four years had changed him and he replied, 'You learn to accept yourself, your own limitations, your own black spots. They make you pull down the barriers.' He added, 'And our neighbours have been extremely positive. I want to speak in favour of Hong Kong - I can say this because I benefit from so many volunteers.' I looked up at Ah Ming's beaming face and wondered what Father Bonzi had told the others when she died. 'They say she is in heaven. A hundred days after she died, we went to pray at her tomb, and the death of a family member became a source of peace. She left a joyful memory. The last word she said before dying was 'Papa' ... because she was looking for me.' The Fu Hong Society can be contacted on 2745-0424 or 2745-4214.