Taipei, June 9 (CNA) Two Jesuit priests received Plum Blossom Cards (梅花卡) from the National Immigration Agency on Monday, giving them permanent resident status in Taiwan in recognition of their selfless love and devotion to the country over the past decade.
The two priests -- Barry Martinson (丁松青) from the United States and Yves Nalet (南耀寧) from France -- have worked many years in the mountainous areas of Hsinchu County in northern Taiwan.
Residents of the mountainous communities in Jianshih (尖石鄉) and Wufeng (五峰鄉) townships in the county do not have much materially, but 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 Wufeng Township 41 years ago and initially felt lonely and had no friends.
"I wanted to leave and go back to my hometown," he recalled.
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.
He discovered that many village children could not go to nursery school because their parents couldn't afford it, so he founded Sacred Heart Nursery School 12 years ago to help parents take care of their young.
Several years ago, he turned a co-operative into a youth cultural center, teaching Atayal people English and fine arts, all of which has earned Martinson the nickname "Papa Ting" among township residents.
Father Nalet has been preaching in Jianshih Township for 21 years, and has helped honey peach growers market their fruits to help them improve their lives.
He has also helped impoverished junior high school students get an education, driving students down from the mountains each week to receive assistance in their schooling, and then driving them back to their homes in the mountains.
Though he speaks English with a strong French accent, that has not stopped the village's children from improving their English skills.
He also asked the children to promote their tribe in English and let tourists see the efforts they have made.
The 70-year-old father, who always wears a smile on his face, said the living conditions in the aboriginal village are not good, but the people are happy and content.
They are optimistic and love nature, traits, he said, that are very close to his heart.
(By Lilian Wu)