TAIWAN — Citing the importance of learning and commenting on his blessings, Pius Liu, OFM, commemorated 60 years as a priest last month at a Mass of Thanksgiving that he described as lively and harmonious. Close to 250 religious attended – friars, sisters, priests – along with others.
The Jan. 4 Mass, which also commemorated the anniversary of Fr. Bonaventure Tun, was celebrated by The Very Rev. Joseph Ti Kang, archbishop emeritus of Taipei. The Very Rev. Claudio Pegoraro and 14 priests were concelebrants, Pius said, adding that “about 230 friars, sisters and parishioners of Our Lady of Assumption Parish participated in the auditorium of St. Bonaventure High School for Girls.” The festivities were “carried out smoothly, harmoniously, lively and successfully under mild and lovely weather,” said Pius.
Pius noted he has felt satisfaction in his religious life.
“Throughout the 60 colorful years of my priestly life, I have experienced many miraculous blessings,” he said in his homily. “Therefore, today it is not a celebration of my diamond priesthood, but rather a Thanksgiving Mass for God’s many wonderful blessings. I want to take this opportunity to ask the Lord to grant each of you, for your kindness coming to this Thanksgiving Mass, the three important and precious ingredients of life: gratitude, joy and hope. By having gratitude, joy and hope, the heart would consequently possess peace. Then words and actions would subconsciously sparkle the rainbow of peace. Furthermore would respond enthusiastically to the appeal of Pope Francis’s Urbi et Orbi message, that each one of us, each day, should be a peacemaker or desirous of homemade peace.”
A Harrowing Journey to the Priesthood
Although Pius has worked in Taiwan for almost 50 years, he is a native of the Province’s former Shasi mission in Hubei Province, mainland China, about 900 miles up the Yangzi River from Shanghai. The mission was served by the friars from 1933 to 1952.
Pius was ordained on Dec. 27, 1953 in the chapel of the high school of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Macao, capping a long, harrowing journey to the priesthood. He was one of several young men mentored by friar missionaries to prepare for the diocesan priesthood in order to build up a native clergy in the prefecture of Shasi. Among his mentors was Aloysius Reilly, OFM, at the mission of Lao Shin Kou.
The young John Liu studied at the friars’ high school in Shasi, where Aloysius’s brother, Ralph Reilly, OFM, later superior of the mission, taught him English. “I remember how, in addition to being a good English pupil, John was one of our star basketball players and sprinters,” Ralph recalled in an article published in the April 1954 Provincial Annals.
But the friars’ stay at the high school was disrupted by the Japanese invasion in World War II. Ralph, John and his classmates wandered “behind the lines” for several years, finally finding a place of refuge with the Chinese Fathers in the Seminary of Wanhsien in Sichuan Province.
After the war, John continued his studies at the central seminary of Hubei in Hankow. But two years later, Catholic religious practice was curtailed with the Communist take over of the region. He then fled to Hong Kong, and eventually Macao, to complete his theological studies.
“Besides the consolation that I personally have found in Fr. Liu’s ordination, I think that the folks back home will find heart in it,” wrote Ralph, following John’s first Mass. “In the midst of the total darkness that has enveloped our beloved Shasi mission, Fr. Liu is a reminder that our labors of love were not altogether in vain.”
As a young priest, John decided to join the friars who had mentored him as a young man. On July 14, 1955, he was received into the Order at St. Raphael’s Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., and professed first vows in 1956. Pius made his solemn profession at Christ the King Seminary, Allegany, N.Y., in 1959.
A Rewarding Life
Pius, who last visited the United States in 2007, spent roughly 10 years after his 1956 profession in New England. He was stationed at St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, for two years, and at St. Francis Chapel in Providence, R.I., for seven years.
Though he said he “always reluctantly accepted assignments — leaving the U.S. to go to Taiwan, leaving Taishan to Neihu, leaving Neihu back to Taishan — surprisingly, all turned out very rewarding.”
Since 2011, Pius has been officially retired, and, as he said in the homily at the jubilee Mass, he is not idle. “It is three years and seven months since being told to leave Our Lady of Assumption Church and live in Taishan Friary. I am retired but not resting. I still drive and say Mass daily, two Masses on Mondays.”
The two verses that were read at the special Mass “reveal the mystery of my standing here with stable feet, alert mind, joyous heart and 60 years of a very colorful priestly life,” he said in his homily. “Evidently, God started caressing me mysteriously and compassionately, beginning from the womb of my mother, gradually bestowing on me both priestly and Franciscan vocations. Through them, I have been able to visit many historical and scenic places and holy shrines; coming across many learned, but humble saintly people; having compassionate and paternal superiors; shepherding docile and appreciative sheep.”
“I stick to the Chinese wisdom: The longer you live the more you learn,” Pius said. “Thus, I learn to live healthily, happily and somewhat productively.
Pius, who turned 93 on Jan. 24, enjoys using the Internet to communicate both news and prayers. “I have learned the basic rules on how to send or receive messages by email and Facebook. I have been writing reflections on current events relevant to our daily life as talks of the afternoon tea time sharing with over 300 partners of the Internet.”
He began using email in 2010 and Facebook in 2011. “I irregularly share my reflections as sort of evangelization or pastoral care. It has been very fruitful and rewarding.”
As the Chinese mark the year of the horse, Pius wishes his friends around the world a happy Chinese New Year.
— Jocelyn Thomas is communications director for Holy Name Province.