We recently received the sad news of the death of Fr. Lancelot Rodrigues, who for many years served as Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Macau, where he was known for his work with refugees, from both China and Vietnam. He also worked in China, creating innovative programs to aid the handicapped and intellectually disabled.
He was 89 when he died on June 17. Although it is in Portuguese, the video below gives a flavor of the man.
Fr. Rodrigues was a larger-than-life figure who exuded great warmth and generosity. A 1990 profile by the Associated Press described him as “a silver-haired bear of a man with a taste for good food and wine.”
“Lance was one of the greats. He helped settle thousands of Vietnamese and fleeing Chinese,” said former CRS president Ken Hackett. “He was a wonderful spirit, raconteur, guitarist, merrymaker, and friend to so many of us. He had connections in China that were the envy of every embassy.”
Fr. Rodrigues was born in Malacca, Malaysia, which made him a British subject, a status that led to his being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1992.
He arrived in Macau – a tiny Portuguese colony on the coast of China near Hong Kong — in 1935 to study for the priesthood. He remained through World War II and was ordained in 1949. At that time he was named chaplain to the first Chinese refugee camp established in Macau, established on the site of a dog racing track in the wake of the communist takeover in China.
Fr. Rodrigues began working for CRS in 1962 when the agency opened an office to respond to the needs of more than 120,000 Chinese refugees who had poured into Macau, then still ruled by Portugal. It came under Chinese sovereignty in 1999 as a special administrative area
In 1975, he became involved in assisting refugees from Vietnam. Between 1975 and 1982, nearly 8,000 “boat people” arrived in Macau where CRS administered a camp named Ka-Ho, opened on the site of a former Portuguese military barracks. Nearly 1,700 people were cared for by CRS and Fr. Rodrigues until the camp closed in 1991.
A 1986 profile in the South China Morning Post described the camp:
Father Lancelot runs a happy ship. It is an open camp with 80 percent of adults working in Macau. In the early days there was animosity between the refugees and the locals, but no more, says Fr. Lancelot. Certainly conditions and morale are better than camps in Hong Kong and this must be in no small way to the efforts of the jolly Fr. Lancelot.
In addition to his work with refugees in Macau, in 1985 Fr. Rodrigues began running a program that aided the handicapped and intellectually disabled in China. With the assistance of a group of specialists, Fr. Rodrigues developed a program that trained more than 200 teachers of handicapped children. The AP article said he had an opportunity to tell Pope John Paul II about his work when they met in 1989.
“Where do you work?’ the pope asked.
“China,” Rodrigues replied.
“Ah, he was jealous!” Rodrigues told the interviewer with a chuckle.