Two Jesuit priests on Monday received Plum Blossom Cards from the National Immigration Agency, giving them permanent resident status in recognition of their selfless love and devotion to the country over the past decade.
The two priests — Barry Martinson from the US and Yves Nalet from France — have worked for many years in the mountainous areas of Hsinchu County.
While residents of Jianshih (尖石) and Wufong (五峰) townships do not have much materially, their faith has become a source of strength, and many who grew up going to church in the villages said they have been deeply influenced by the priests.
“They have not only brought religion, but strength, which allows you to believe that love changes everything,” one parishioner said.
Martinson, from California, came to work with the Chingchuan tribe (清泉部落) in Wufong more than four decades ago.
Alone with no friends, Martinson said he “wanted to leave and go back to my hometown.”
He called his mother for advice and she encouraged him to stay on for at least a year, which has now turned into 41 years.
After discovering that many village children could not go to nursery school because their parents could not afford it, he founded the Sacred Heart Nursery School 12 years ago to help parents take care of their young.
Several years ago, he turned a cooperative into a youth cultural center, teaching Atayal Aborigines English and fine arts.
All these earned Martinson the nickname “Papa Ting” among township residents.
Meanwhile, Father Nalet has been preaching in Jianshih Township for 21 years and has helped honey peach growers market their fruit to improve their livelihoods.
Nalet has also helped impoverished junior-high school students get an education, driving the young people down the mountains each week to receive assistance in their schooling, as well as driving them back home.
Although English is not his first language, he has helped the village children improve their English skills. This includes asking the children to promote their tribe in English and letting tourists see the efforts they have made.
The 70-year-old priest said that the living conditions in the Aboriginal village are not good, but people are happy and content.
They are optimistic and love nature, traits that are very close to his heart, he said.
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