As office workers hand dollars over for cartons of corporate coffee, it is all too easy for them not to notice the elderly gentleman sitting nearby. The issues of the moment for John Tang Kai-tan are not rushing to work or lounging in the shop's cosy chairs to share gossip. His thoughts are of a priest who saved hundreds of lives. Asking the 76-year-old to cast his mind back to wartime Macau is difficult in such an unlikely setting. For John and fellow schoolchildren and orphans who survived those years, it is only a certain bright light of faith that serves to defeat dark memories of near starvation and the hardship they endured. Yet the intrusive clatter of orders being made at the counter suddenly fades as John looks up and speaks of Father Mario Acquistapace, the man who saved his and hundreds of other young lives in Macau. Speaking through a friend, who acts as an interpreter, John recalls Father Acquistapace. 'Without the arrangement that Father Acquistapace had made, many of us would have starved. There was no food at all, people were starving. There were hundreds of children and orphans with nowhere to live and nothing at all to eat.' Imperial Japan had struck terror into Asia after invading Manchuria in 1937 and effectively cutting off Macau and the Pearl Delta after taking Hong Kong in 1941. At the time John was a six-year-old pupil at the Instituto Immaculada Concecao, a boarding school where children and orphans were taught. Father Acquistapace, a Salesian missionary, had arrived in Macau 11 years earlier at the age of 20. In 1937 he was prefect of studies at John's school. 'Many families had fled to Macau from the mainland and Hong Kong,' John recalls. 'At first, things were all right but the situation became worse. My family moved back to Canton in 1942 because there was nothing in Macau. I was left, with my brother, at the school. We stayed there because it was the only place that we could eat.' As the situation worsened, children and staff at the school soon became aware that food supplies were diminishing. It was through the actions of Father Acquistapace that the 500 children in the school were able to survive the following summer. 'He made it his duty to help those children under his care. He negotiated with the government at the time to have us fed, but they were not willing to help. Eventually he managed to make an agreement with them. The government would help to feed us if we worked for them,' John recalls. That summer, in the blazing heat, the 500 children and orphans began helping with reclamation work for the Portuguese authorities. Children aged between six and 13 were made to carry sacks of earth back and forth from the tops of hills to the sea, for a solitary bowl of congee at the end of their day's work. 'It was very difficult time,' John says, 'but Father Acquistapace also arranged congee to be handed out to the poor people in Macau at the time. We would stand on the street and hand it out to people who had no food. 'We had prayers in the school every evening. Some evenings we knew that there was not enough food for all of us the next day. On those evenings Father Acquistapace would leave early. He would tell us to keep praying and we would all get fed tomorrow. He would then go out and find ways to have us fed the next day. He asked people to sponsor us, he begged the government, he did whatever he could. Our prayers were always answered.' The end of the war brought with it much needed relief and John moved to Hong Kong. He now runs the Don Bosco Old Boys' Society that consists of students from Don Bosco schools (a network of Christian schools around the world, of which his school in Macau became part of). Father Acquistapace did not rest from his mission to help needy children, and moved to Beijing where he established orphanages that helped save the lives of thousands more children. He remained in the mainland despite threats of imprisonment from the Communist regime. He was forced to leave in 1952 after having been made persona non grata and was the last Catholic priest to leave the capital as Mao Zedong tightened his grip. 'There are only a handful of boys left today who survived the war at the school,' John explains. 'We became like brothers in the school, and Father Acquistapace was our father. In the Don Bosco spirit we try to help other children around the world who are in need.' Father Acquistapace died peacefully on September25, 2002 in a seminary in Shau Kei Wan. Until his final days, he worked to help the needy, and his memory lives with them and so many who owe him their life.