Fr Neil Magill is a Columban Missionary. In his office in Taiwan he placed posters on the wall with quotations from Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical: On Human Work. The police demanded that they be removed as “subversive and leading to communism”. (Try telling that to John Paul II, the champion against Communism!)
For one anxious year he received many anonymous phone calls, often in the middle of the night, telling him to leave Taiwan. On St Patrick’s Day 1989, Neil was lured to the local police station on the assurance that his new visa was ready for collection. On arrival there he was grabbed by a number of policemen who rushed him to the airport and bundled him on to a commercial ﬂight for Hong Kong. All he had with him at the time were the clothes he was wearing. The Church authorities were shocked, angry and embarrassed because they were being publicly attacked by politicians as news of Neil’s expulsion was being broadcast all over the world.
Two days later, at the ﬁrst news conference ever held by the Catholic hierarchy in Taiwan, ﬁve of the island’s bishops defended Neil’s apostolate. “Jesus responded to social problems”, they said, “and the Church must do what he did”. In an open letter 67 eminent scholars claimed that the government had abused its authority. For the ﬁrst time ever workers demonstrated on the streets against the government. Meanwhile, Neil was welcomed back to Ireland by his aged parents, and over the following ten years he became the Justice and Peace coordinator of the Irish Region, the Vice-Director and the Director. Then at the Columban Chapter of the year 2000, he was elected Vicar-General of the Society.
In the national elections of the year 2000 in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party took power from the Kuomintang for the ﬁrst time in ﬁfty years. The new President Chen Shui-bian, a lawyer by profession, who had also been imprisoned by the previous government, talked of his vision for greater democracy and better conditions for workers in Taiwan. He invited Neil to return to Taiwan, paid all his expenses and twice apologised for the treatment Neil had received from the previous government. He also gave Neil £1,000 spending money while he was in the country. This money Neil donated to voluntary groups working with the poor.
The Columban commitment to migrant workers has continued in Taiwan. Meanwhile, Neil has found a new mission in Myanmar where he runs courses in Justice and Peace for lay leaders.
From an article in Far East magazine by Fr Cyril Lovett, September-October 2018.
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