Taipei--Father George Martinson, an American Jesuit missionary who lived and worked in Taiwan for 50 years, was praised at a memorial on Thursday and Pope Francis sent a message describing him as a blessing for all people.
Martinson, also known as Uncle Jerry from his English teaching programs and his Chinese name (?????), who had heart surgery in April, died a day earlier. He was 74.
While doctors said Wednesday that he seemed to have died several days ago of a heart attack, the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference later put out a statement saying that he had passed away earlier in the day.
The Ministry of the Interior had originally planned to hold a news conference on Thursday to present Father Martinson with a Taiwan ID card for his work in the country, but the news conference was instead turned into a memorial for the beloved priest.
John Chih-cheng Jao (???), of the Society of Jesus, Chinese Province, said Father Martinson was "an optimistic, joyful priest filled with love. He looked at things positively, and rarely complained about other people. Everyone who met him loved him."
"We see in him the image of Jesus," Jao said, praising the presentation of the Taiwan ID card.
Although he couldn't be on hand to accept the ID card, he was sure to celebrate with the Lord above at officially becoming a Taiwanese, Jao said.
Jao also said that Pope Francis sent a message after learning of Father Martinson's passing, saying that he was grateful "the Lord has given us Uncle Jerry," and that a lot of people in Taiwan, China and Asia knew him.
Sun Ta-chuan (???), vice president of the Control Yuan who once served as a Chinese secretary for Father Martinson, said that his concept of "family" was different from others.
Sun recounted that he once invited the priest for dinner after work, but the father declined and instead took his guitar to a construction site to eat with foreign laborers and other workers.
Sun said that for the priest, the definition of "family" was extremely broad, including people from every class.
Interior Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong (???), presented the Taiwan ID card to the deceased priest's younger brother Barry Martinson, also a Jesuit priest.
Barry Martinson, equally recognizable and known by his Chinese name (?????), said that his brother had said to him before his heart surgery that if he died, he wanted people to know he loved them.
Barry Martinson said choking back tears "I want to tell you now, I love you."
He said that although he and his brother have long felt they are Taiwanese, he was happy to have the ID card.
He also said that his brother is now a Taiwanese and will be buried in the cemetery of Fu Jen Catholic University's Faculty of Theology of St. Robert Bellarmine.
President Tsai Ing-wen (???) tweeted a message on Thursday in memory of Father Martinson, saying the father was a bona fide "Taiwanese" who dedicated decades of his life to the country and deserves "our respect and gratitude."
Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, Taiwan's largest charity organization, issued a statement expressing its condolences.
The foundation said that the priest took his guitar to disaster areas after the devastating Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake, comforting people with his songs.
The foundation noted that its founder Master Cheng Yen (??), had on several occasions praised the priest for transcending religion, language and dedicating himself to service of the people.
George Martinson was born in 1942. In his youth he admired Dr. Albert Schweitzer's practice of medicine in Africa, but was called by the mission to produce programs and films.
He came to Taiwan in 1967 as a missionary and went to live in Hsinchu County, where he learned Mandarin.
He became a television producer and host, working at Kuangchi Program Service (KPS), a television studio that has been producing free educational programs in Taiwan since 1958.
Documentaries produced by KPS on refugees in northern Thailand and churches in mainland China have won awards at home and abroad.
KPS Vice Chairman John Hei (???) said that shortly before his death Father Martinson had indicated he wanted to produce a documentary on Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an Italian Jesuit who went to China as a missionary.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel