TAIPEI, Taiwan – A happy life means living, loving and working. That thought is among the many profound observations shared by a friar who has nearly a century of experience from which to reflect. Judging from the photos and reflections posted on his Facebook page, most of 2020 has been filled by one celebratory event after another for Pius Liu, OFM, who turned 99 on Jan. 24. Heartfelt gratitude is clearly the common thread running through his posts that show the many friends with which he celebrated this milestone.
This remarkably energetic and active friar didn’t wait for his 99th birthday to share his life and reflections – he began in early January, posting photos of his new year celebrations that were followed by images of other gatherings.
Pius said family members and friends traditionally begin celebrating two weeks before his birthday. This year was no different, as 30 guests gathered on Jan. 10 at Our Lady of Assumption Church for a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Pius, along with Fr. Michael Woo, the provincial of Regina Sinarum Province, and Fr. Pius Jeun, pastor of Assumption Parish. He enjoyed the Mass “rapturously and gratefully,” as well as the “warm” celebration arranged by three sisters that followed afterward at a Ghanaian restaurant in Nehu Lake.
On his birthday, which came the day before the first day of the Chinese New Year – a major festival in China – Pius celebrated over a three-course lunch with 17 friars. The day was also marked by a Mass arranged by three parishioners at his former parish.
“I am very grateful to God and to Holy Name Province for my Franciscan vocation,” said Pius, who lives in Taipei, a city of more than 2 million people that is approximately 500 miles south of Shanghai, China. “I am very happy and grateful for still enjoying relatively good physical, mental and spiritual health.”
He added, “I am particularly grateful to God for having met Michael Perry, OFM, our Minister General, a man of admirable humility, brotherly affection, fraternal cordiality, paternal kindness – and a living example and witness of ‘living, loving and working!’”
Admiring Fr. Michael’s perseverance and desire to live life energetically, Pius noted that “after his serious bicycle accident in Chicago last August, the General Minister felt strong and recovered enough to return to Rome and resume work.”
Miracle of Facebook: Birthday Greetings from Around the World
On his birthday, Pius received greetings from well-wishers around the world through his Facebook page, which he established nine years ago.
“I began learning how to use Facebook in May 2011,” he said, “and up to now, I have 4,955 God-sent Facebook partners. How and where they come from is a mystery – and miracle – to me! Their presence inspires and encourages, and shows how beautiful and rewarding the life of living, loving and working really is.”
He continued, “God has arranged encounters with happy families, groups, and individuals who are three-in-one – ‘life, love, work.’ Their passion, like their friendly messages, also lets me experience the three-in-one of life, love, and work. What fulfillment and accomplishment!”
In a Jan. 10 post, Pius reflected on his long life, saying that in his 99 years overall, and 66 years in ministry, he has been blessed with enlightenment on this long journey. “I feel the virtues of humility, joy, and gratitude from the values of both the Chinese culture and the Gospel,” he said.
In more recent email communication, Pius shared these thoughts:
“This life is a blessing and duty to loving and working. Living, loving and working are three-in-one, which results in another three-in-one: healthy, happy and fulfilling life.”
Pius said he received special birthday gifts, which he described on Facebook as symbolizing the “amazing grace” that God has provided throughout his 99 years.
Several days after his birthday, Pius reflected on life, noting that the teachings of Western Chinese culture and the Gospel use almost identical words to describe life.
“Western culture,” Pius wrote, “says that father’s work is from sun to sun, mother’s work is never done. The Gospel says that Father is at work until now, and I am at work as well. God is love. God’s life is love. God’s work is love. Thus, life is a blessing and duty to loving and working.”
‘Ants Climbing A Tree’ Worth the Climb
In his email communication, Pius also shared thoughts about his physical abilities, reflecting on his recovery from a fall last autumn.
“Yesterday, I bravely climbed four floors for the first time since my recovery from the fall in order to enjoy the cooking of ‘ants climbing a tree.’ After I tasted a mouthful, I told my host that the four-floor climb was worthwhile indeed,” said Pius. With its seemingly unappetizing name, this classic Sichuan dish comprises noodles (the tree branches), with chopped scallions, as the leaves, and ground pork, the “ants,” in a popular spicy sauce.
In an article in the 2001 edition of The Provincial Annals, Pius wrote about his first 80 years of life. “I recall a mingling of hardships, crises, adventures, and surprises,” he said. “I am, health-wise, somehow miraculously in fairly good shape. I am able to handle the full liturgical schedule.”
When asked recently what his daily life at age 99 includes, his reply was simply, “I participate in all activities of the community. Like St. Francis, I join the universe praying and thanking the Lord, and strive to be an instrument of peace of the Lord for the rest of my life,” he said.
Stationed on the island of Taiwan for more than five decades, Pius lived many years in mainland China, where the Franciscans served. Born in 1921, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1953 in a chapel of the high school of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Macao, China. He was one of several young men mentored by friar missionaries to prepare for the diocesan priesthood. Pius learned English from Ralph Reilly, OFM, a missionary of HNP province to China.
Pius was received into the Order of Friars Minor in Lafayette, New Jersey, in 1955 and professed his first vows in 1956. He made his solemn profession at Christ the King Seminary in Allegany, N.Y., in 1959 and spent nearly 10 years after his profession in New England, where he served in pastoral ministry in Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island.
In a February 2017 HNP Today article that compiled advice from friars on living long and happy lives, Pius said: “My secrets of enjoying relatively good health up to now are the following: the grace of God, early sleeping and early rising, regular and reasonable meals, and persevering daily physical exercises, as well as practicing humility, gratitude, and joy.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.