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Fr. Ruiz dies at 97: Macau bids farewell to ‘Father of the poor’

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image ‘Nothing makes me happier than to make people happy,’ used to say Father Luis Ruiz Suarez

Father Luis Ruiz Suarez, whose death at the age of 97 was announced yesterday, was without a doubt one of the most important figures in Macau, being the founder of what people know today as the social services system, providing help to the poor, elderly and mentally challenged.
Most people knew the Spanish Jesuit by his Chinese name – Father ‘Luk Ngai’ – or more commonly by ‘Father of the poor’, due to his devoted work “with the poorest of the poor”.
“He was a devoted priest and a greater-than-life figure,” said Fr. Luís Sequeira, until recently head of the Jesuit order in Macau.
“He gave everything he had to the poor and [those] suffering. He was completely selfless and he demonstrated that attitude in all his work,” Fr. Sequeira told Macau Daily Times.
Fr. Ruiz came from Spain and arrived in China in 1941. He studied Mandarin in Beijing and then Philosophy in Shanghai, and was ordained in Xian County, Hebei province.
After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, in 1949, Fr. Ruiz was sent to Hong Kong and then to Macau, where he arrived in 1951.
World War II had ended a few years earlier and people in Macau were suffering great hardships as the territory was flooded with refugees from neighbouring regions. On arriving in Macau, Fr. Ruiz immediately began to serve the poor, mainly refugees. He opened the doors of Macau’s Jesuit Residence – Casa Ricci – and started the Ricci Centre for Social Services, now the Macau branch of Caritas.
There, he helped refugees obtain documentation, find jobs and provided education for their children. “An urgent priority,” as Fr. Ruiz used to say, because that would ensure a bright future for these children.
“He [Fr. Ruiz] founded institutions for helping people in need. In fact, he established several institutions that still today provide help to people with different needs, not only in Macau but also in mainland China,” said Fr. Sequeira.
“When Fr. Ruiz arrived in Macau it was not easy to establish these types of centres, but he managed to do it and he shouldered all the responsibility,” said Paul Pun Chi Meng, secretary-general of Caritas Macau.
As the refugees gradually left Macau, he turned his attention to the region’s poverty-stricken and abandoned elderly citizens.
He established Macau’s first homes for elderly men and women and he gradually broadened the scope of services to include the mentally challenged.
In mainland China, Fr. Ruiz helped establish leprosy centres in remote areas, providing basic services and assistance. He then turned his attention to AIDS victims, also founding care centres in the Mainland.
He used to say that his work was to serve the poorest of the poor, those who are in great need.
“No matter how daunting the problems were, he always found solutions. He used to remind us constantly that nothing makes you happier than to make people happy,” Pun told MDTimes.
That was indeed one of his favourite quotes. “He would always do everything with a smile,” recalled Fr. Sequeira.
“Even though he was already physically limited in recent years, he kept visiting people in mainland China and celebrating mass in the Lar São Luís Gonzaga for the mentally challenged,” the priest added.
“There is no bigger joy than to serve poor people. Their faces and smiles are the greatest reward you can get from helping people,” Fr. Ruiz had said in an article by João Guedes published in Revista Macau in November 1994.
Yesterday, Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On released a message of condolence. “It was with deep regret that I learned that Father Luis Ruiz Suarez has passed way,” he said, paying tribute “to a great philanthropist and citizen of Macau”.
“His work was worthy of recognition and respect by the entire society,” said Chui Sai On, adding that Fr. Ruiz “will remain an example of the great values ​​of solidarity and unconditional dedication to others”.
That will definitely be his legacy, said Pun. “I was lucky to meet and work with him, and what I aspire is to follow in his steps.”
An unconditional fan of Real Madrid and Rafael Nadal, as well as a follower of the Formula One championship, Fr. Ruiz will be an example for younger generations.
“Everyone could and should learn something from him and the way he devoted his time to others,” said Fr. Sequeira.
Fr. Ruiz was, as has become widely agreed in Macau, a truly great and devoted man. “He was happily doing something that was supposed to be very difficult and his work will be appreciated for decades,” concluded Pun.

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