Champion of the neglected and sick in Mao's China

Spanish Jesuit Father Luis Ruiz Suarez, who dedicated his entire life to needy people in Macau and mainland China, died last week at the age of 97. Father Ruiz was a giant because of the size of his heart. It was as big as a horse.

His missionary work in China began in 1941. It was interrupted by the Second Sino-Japanese War, and resumed after the war ended in 1945. When the Communists took control of China in 1949, he was imprisoned briefly and expelled from the country.

He was told by his Jesuit provincial to stay in Macau, at the time a Portuguese colony, to recover from typhoid, which he contracted in prison, but within a month he was already working with refugees, to whom be brought solace, comfort, food and shelter.

The genius of Luis was the way he reinvented himself as the carer for succeeding generations of those who were neglected and in need – the physically and intellectually disabled, those suffering from chronic diseases that separated them from families and communities with Hanson’s disease (leprosy) and in recent decades those with HIV AIDS. 

Macau. the size of a postage stamp (12 square miles) and asleep under the benign neglect of its Portuguese colonial rulers for 50 of Luis’ 60 years there, was a hive of creativity and a base for extensive outreach to those in need, far distant from its borders.

Mao’s China was full of propaganda; the Chinese spin doctors claimed it was the first civilisation to have no gambling,  no prostitution and to have eliminated many of the diseases that have plagued humanity since before history was recorded.

Prime among these was Hanson’s disease. With the wave of a magic wand, the Great Helmsman of the People (also known as Mao) had swept away that particular pestilence. Not so, of course.

Against all odds,  it was Luis Ruiz’s extraordinary blend of dogged perseverance and utter sincerity that managed to have comfort and care brought to those suffering the disease in remote and secluded parts of southern China. In the face of official denial, the fear of losing face if the reality were exposed and his being a Catholic priest in very Communist China, Luis broke down all barriers to addressing the needs of the ill.

FULL OBITUARY: One of the greats: Vale Luis Ruiz (Michael Kelly SJ / UCAN Give Us This Day Blog)


Macau Caritas founder dies (UCAN)

Luis Ruiz (Jesuit Mission)

To love without measure (Madonna)

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