Fr. Lancelot Rodrigues of Macau, RIP

June 24, 2013 by

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.

4 Comments

  1. richard gonzalez says:

    I was most privileged to have known and worked with Father. He was a dear friend whom I will miss until the day I am called. May God bless him and keep him.

  2. Lim Chung Tat says:

    It is with great sadness that I just learned of Father Lancelot Rodrigues’ death in June 2013 in Macau. He was a great friend of mine and many of my University of Malaya mates like Beda Lim, Jack d Silva and Jamil Jan, all,dead too. Beda and I were particularly close to Father Lancelot in 1981 and 1982. Beda was Librarian at the former University of East Asia(now University of Macau). I was on attachment to that University from the University of Malaya, functioning there as the Foundation Registrar/Secretary. Father Lancelot was then doing Catholic Relief services among the refugees, based at the Catholic Centre at Rua Praia de Grande, Macau. We used to have dinner at the old Chinese restaurant, Tai Sum Yin, at Rua de Felicidade Road of Happiness) several times a week, together with a few of our Portuguese and Macanese friends, like Arturo, also gone, who used to entertain us with his rendition of “O Sole Mio”. I remembered the late Father Dr, Lancelot Rodrigues in my Book “University of Malaya, 1949 to 1985″, published in May 2013. A great man now gone. Rest in Peace, Lanc.

  3. Joseph Bracken says:

    My job as the U.S. Refugee Officer in Hong Kong brought me to Macao in 1989, where I met the incomparable Fr. Lancelot. He always mixed business with pleasure and invariably made friends along the way. After the Macau refugee camp closed, Fr. Lancelot raised funds in Hong Kong and Macau for his missionary work in China. He truly served the least among us, as Christ asked his disciples 2,000 years ago.
    Joe Bracken

  4. David Calthorpe . says:

    It is only today that I heard of the death of Father Lancelot …and it was with great sadness that I realized that no longer will I be able to have one of those truly unforgettable lunches with him ,as I normally did when visiting Macao on my trips from the Southern most point of Africa…Cape Town …….or to casually chat to him in his office sharing a glass of whiskey .
    He was indeed one of life’s most wonderful ,humorous and noble characters filled with a marvelous zest for life and gifted with a truly deep understanding of humanity .
    I initially met him on my quest to discover any living personalities in Macao who had known my uncle ,John Pownal Reeves ,who had been the British consul there during the dark days of the second world war .It was Father Lancelot who managed to identify many of the persons on old photographs of the war time hockey teams in Macao and who so kindly took me by car to see the site of the old British consulate near the Guia lighthouse .Fr .Lancelot had been a student in those early days and as a British subject he had needed to have his passport stamped and renewed at the Consulate ,thus meeting John Reeves .
    I have in my possession a photograph of Fr.lancelot taken from the back of St.Anthony’s church one Sunday when he was saying Mass there ,alas ,no longer will any of us be able to hear him perform this ancient ritual of the Church from the sanctuaries of any of the truly beautiful colonial churches that stand as a testament to those who served the people of Macao so faithfully all their lives …….REQUISCAT IN PACE …