Fr. Giosuè Bonzi, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, celebrates 50 years of priesthood of which 49 spent in the former British colony: "When I arrived I could not imagine how I could ever help". Over time, and through even physical suffering, he built up a project designed to leave a great mark: the Fu Hong Society, which today cares for and reintegrates thousands of people with disabilities into society.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - When he arrived in Hong Kong, 49 years ago, Fr. Giosuè Bonzi had no idea what he could practically do to contribute to the evangelization of the Chinese: "I was overwhelmed by a sense of impotence, and the first signs of physical problems with my back did not help the situation. I turned to the Superior General of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of the time, Msgr. Pirovano, and asked him to be allowed return to Italy or be destined for a place where I could do more. He replied: 'I sent you where I want you to be. And now you will remain there. That’s it!'. It was the beginning of a new, long journey".
Fr. Bonzi has come back to Italy, but to celebrate 50 years of priesthood, and has taken the opportunity to speak to AsiaNews about a life of mission and "wonderful encounters led by the Spirit." First of all the encounter with China: "During my seminary years, we sang asking for help to bring the Gospel of Jesus 'to the hordes of infidels'. The Second Vatican Council was yet to come, and the concept of mission was very different from today. Luckily, I'd say, because the Council has adapted the Church and her mission in the world. "
The fact remains that the first impact with mission "in the field" was massive: "When I arrived in Hong Kong there were two separate 'groups' of PIME brothers, which together exceeded the 70 people. One consisted of the 'patriarchs' of mission, expelled from China; the other group was full of young men. After the Superior answered me I had no doubts about 'where' my mission was, but the question of 'how' "was always open.
At first, "I thought about working as a laborer - at the time Hong Kong was in the midst of its industrial boom – but a herniated disc blocked me. I have had over 20 operations on my back, and certainly manual labor was not a possibility. I experienced a moment of discouragement, but I felt my path was near at hand. In the midst of my doubt providence came to my aid, when I found myself aiding my late brother Fr. Enea Tapella. It was he who encouraged me to take the path of caring for and sharing with the 'fragile' of Hong Kong. "
This PIME confrere had indeed started – in the 1970’s - a first path of integration for disabled and handicapped people of the Territory: "The social stigma and imprisonment in which they lived at the time were really terrible. One hardly saw people with disabilities in the streets, and the parents kept them hidden as if they were a disgrace. Along with Fr. Enea we started some small activities to integrate these people, starting with the youngest".
An accident led to the premature death of Fr. Tapella at just 48 years of age: "His long agony and death always pushed me on to invest more and more of myself in the project he started and especially in the reflection on the theme of evangelization and the role of the smallest, weakest and 'most fragile' in the mission of the Church". But in addition to the testimony of the missionary, Fr. Bonzi has the good fortune to meet or know the writings of Jean Vanier – whom he met in France at Trosly-Breuil - and the priest of Dutch origin Fr. Henry J. M. Nouwen, a famous teacher at the "Yale Divinity School," and for his many books on spirituality, most of which he has read.
And of course the appeal of Mother Teresa: "I met her briefly in Hong Kong, but I was able to serve as confessor to her sisters of the main communities in the Territory." Finally the lifelong example of his disabled friends. "They are the most valuable resources that Providence offers me, for a deeper understanding. In their fragility, in their disability I see the face of Jesus Christ. "
It was to help these people that Fr. Bonzi and Fr. Tapella began the Fu Hong Society nearly 40 years ago: "The first task was to help people with disabilities and their families in the difficulties of daily life. By the time we grew up creating homes, support structures for the mentally disabled, and carrying out activities for the reintegration of the handicapped ".
Today Hong Kong’s Hong Fu has nearly a thousand full-time employees: "They are the ones that help about 4 thousand people, mostly mentally handicapped and ex-patients discharged from psychiatric hospitals: the purpose is always rehabilitation and reintegration into the community”. Foster homes, for obvious reasons in small numbers, are crucial: "I live in one of these houses, which seek to be '' a bridge between health facilities and the world. For the people we help, it is the most delicate and important moment. "
But the structure is expanding: "Since April 1978 I have been traveling within China, and since 1990 I have been directing the 'FHS' Committee for 'Program Exchanges' with China, Macao and Taiwan. We've got to open centers and facilities throughout the Chinese world, and now we are celebrating 40 years. It almost does not seem real. " In Macau they assist nearly 300 people, and they have an equally important commitment since 2010 in the Chinese city of Nanjing: "The diocese has opened a structure similar to ours, called 'Ark of Nanjing' ('Nanjing Fangzhou'). At their request I have been commuting to help in personnel training and consulting regarding the management of the Centres and the Association of Parents, taking volunteer experts mostly of Hong Fu with me from time to time”.
But the most important thing, and for which Fr. Bonzi thanks God, "is always for the privilege of accompanying and being accompanied by friends with disabilities, who educate me and make me feel that He is truly always with us, every day, if we recognize him wherever He chose to be found, in the little ones of the Kingdom
He visited China during the Cultural Revolution and after Deng Xiaoping modernisations. Catholic communities that seemed destroyed blossomed again. Ties with old PIME missionaries expelled by Mao Zedong were renewed. The mission has now new frontiers. Here is Fr Piero Gheddo’s autobiography.