Catholic Social Service in Macau:Socio-Political Implications

Beatrice Leung(Department of Political Science Lingnan College,Hong kong)

  The Catholic Church has rendered significant social service to the community in Macau. Although elsewhere social services are ordinarily rendered prima-rily through government agencies, this is not the case in Macau. The Catholic Church has in fact in large measure subsumed many of these functions in Macau ever since the latter's establishment as a Portuguese Territory in 1553. Moreover, the role of the Catholic Church as a powerful anticommunist force within Macau is herein emphasized.
  In Macau, the Catholic church has been an important agent to render wel-fare services to the needy since Macau's establishment as a Portuguese terri-tory in 1553. In 1583, the local residents, advised by the first Macau bishop Melchior Carneiro, a captain, and other honourable men, founded the Munici-pal Senate. With the strong advocacy of the bishop, welfare agencies such as the Santa Casa da Misericordia, the Hospital of St. Raphael and the leprosarium of St. Lazaro1 were founded to offer social assistance to misplaced persons in Macau such as adventurers, traders and sailors.2 They came from the west because they were attracted by the enormous profit from maritime trading after the discovery of the sea route to the East in the sixteenth century. Since then the Catholic church has been rendering social services to the foreign popu-lation of Macau. In the nineteenth century, Catholic social services were ex-tended to Chinese Catholics as well. San Jose Asilo of St. Lazaro district, a hospice for the elderly and terminally ill, was a good example of this kind.3 Since these institutions were strongly based in the traditions and practices of Catholicism, they attracted Catholic adherents only.4 Also orphanages founded by religious sisters sheltered abandoned Chinese female infants who received a Catholic education in the course of their upbringing. Hence, the Catholic nuns constituted the first group to offer education to women in Macau. The close cooperation of government and church in rendering social services over the past decades in such a way that the church complemented the government and single-handedly shouldered the responsibility of aiding the poor and un-derprivileged. Very often the government, however, acted behind the scenes by sponsoring the erection of buildings, while the Catholic church was invited to carry out the work involved in administering social services to the commu-nity.
  After the Second World War, with the influx of Chinese refugees, and the ingress of Chinese Christians from the north, the volume of Catholic so-cial services was able to expand quite enormously due to the increase of re-sources coming from USA relief programmes for refugees. The nature of Catholic social services had by then been changed; and social services ca-tered to the majority of the refugee population, which was largely consti-tuted of newcomers (both foreigners and Chinese) from China after the 1949 Revolution and overseas Chinese from S.E. Asia, who were expelled due to political reasons. The Macau Catholic Relief Service Office and Macau Caritas began to take shape in the 1950's and they have continued to function until the present time, becoming the two most important pillars of Catholic social service in Macau.
  The tide was turned after the riot of 3rd December 1966, which was the spill over of the Cultural Revolution in China. The December riot of 1966 gave rise to pro-China institutions such as the Workers Union, and the Neighbourhood Asso-ciations which through offering social services to the community, thereby infil-trated Communist influence at the grass roots level of Macau society. In other words, the provision of social services for pro-China institutions constituted a form of united front tactics (which Beijing was bent upon employing). Therefore, it is natural to find that the type of social services such institutions offer is very differ-ent from those afforded by the Church.
  This article focuses on (1) a discussion of these two major types of social serv-ice, and their contributions to contemporary Macau, and on (2) a comparison of their good works and highlighting their social and political impact upon Macau society in the future.

The Social Services of the Government of Macau During the 1980's

  During the administration of Governor Carlos Montez Melancia, Macau embarked upon a new stage in her social services due to the increase of popu-lation and the increase of national income caused by the increase of manufac-tured productivity in the era of the opening of China to foreign trade since the early 1980's. Moreover, Melancia, unlike his predecessors, who mostly came from the military, had long been in the civil service of Lisbon before he was appointed governor of Macau. During his reign, the Government of Macau for the first time considered taking upon itself the responsibility of catering to the needs of society. He announced that the government would take measures to subsidize education, to set up a social security scheme for the entire popu-lation, and that it would undertake labour relations with the purpose of re-solving disputes over labour issues and in order to promote industrial safety. He also launched a low cost housing project which aimed at offering decent housing at low prices to people of low income. For the elderly, the Govern-ment utilized charitable organizations to provide homes for the elderly andactivity centers for the aged. He also rebuilt the local general hospital, and set up nine local medical clinics in various districts to form a medical network which offered much improved medicai services to the masses. Some of these improvements have been carried out by charitable organizations such as of the Church and pro-China institutions, while some of them are still in the pipe-line waiting for the proper time for their implementation.
  Melancia's system of social services was a response to the social needs of a changing society then undergoing the process of industrialization. The so-cial, political and economic transitions in Macau are, naturally, creating many social problems which calling for new strategies, frequently of a sort involv-ing prevention, and dealing with such matters as crime and juvenile delin-quency.5

Caritas of Macau: the Catholic Institution of Social Services

  In 1951, a young Spanish Jesuit, Fr. Luis Ruiz S. J., came to Macau from the Mission in China, and moved into Casa Ricci, which is located at No. 1A, Largo de S. Agostinho. Aimed at following the example set by Christ in pro-moting charity, the Casa Ricci, under his leadership, has been faithful to the principle in assisting the poor, the handicapped, the elderly and all those who are in need. Father Ruiz and Casa Ricci launched relief projects aimed mainly at helping refugees who sought shelter in Macau from China after the 1949 Revolution.6 Casa Ricci believes that human love, together with human devel-opment are the pillars of social progress. Through receiving assistance those are in need, especially children from poor families and those lonely and help-less, it is hoped that after they have gone through suffering in life, they are able to regain their dignity and values as God's children.7 It explains why most of Casa Ricci's social work belongs to the essential relief service type, and she has kept up this tradition until the present. With a good network of fund-raising abroad, Casa Ricci does not need to rely on local donations. This ex-plains why even in the 1960's, when business and trade in Macau suffered due to the US embargo against China, Casa Ricci was able to carry on its relief work all the same.
  Later, in the 1970's, Casa Ricci became the Macau branch of Caritas Inter-national and foreign aid came in more systematically because its style of ren-dering immediate relief services to the needy was appealing to foreign donors in Europe and the USA. By the late 1980's the Caritas of Macau had become more professional and pioneering in its approach. The leaders of the Jesuits evaluate their work from time to time on a worldwide perspective. Also the administration of Caritas International would like to see the local branches of their organization really meet the needs of local people through their profes-sional and up-to-date service. Thus, it was decided that the day of one-man-operation by Fr. Luis Ruiz was gone, and that more professional workers were required on their staff. In fact, it was Caritas of Macau which initiated thetraining of professional social workers to cope with its own needs early in the late 1970's.
  Today the Caritas of Macau not only has become the principal institute of social service, but also the major component of the Government's welfare serv-ice. Its four hospices for the elderly people provide 90 percent of the private sector of social services for the elderly.8 Its 4 centres for the handicapped are the only residence services available in Macau for the mentally retarded and physically handicapped. In this area, instead of the Macau government, Caritas shoulders the sole responsibility for providing social services to this group of people who are unable to look after themselves. There are 301 inmates of homes for the handicapped of Caritas of Macau.9 It has various kinds of up-to-date social services, including Social Development Centres, programmes for Driv-ing Lessons for the Handicapped, Centers for Women, a School for the Deaf and for Victims of Aphasia, hotline for Suicide Prevention and the Domestic Assistance Programme. Caritas Macau is the only institution which can ex-tend professional help in these areas. Together with its essential relief serv-ices, Caritas spent 33 million patacas last year in serving 12,019 under-privi-leged people, with the help of 246 staff and 19 social workers.10 In the fiscal year of 1991-2 the government provided subsidies totalling 10 million dollars, of which the majority came from overseas, while the annual fund-raising ba-zaar only raised 10 percent of this figure from the local population, and the Macau Catholic Diocese paid the administrative costs, which amounted to 330 thousand patacas, constituting 10 percent of total expenditure.11

The Traditional Associations: The Pro-China Institutions for Social Services

  Traditional associations in Macau are those commercial and social asso-ciations organised by Chinese persons, and they form a sharp contrast to those organizations which bear a strong foreign stamp due to their religious and political affiliations. Subsequently, the social services offered by the traditional associations should take an approach different from that of church-run chari-ties. Take Kiang Wu Hospital and its affiliated free school for example, which are run as charitable services by local Chinese for the underprivileged. Since they have no foreign affiliations, they are accepted by the local people with-out reservation.
  However, financial difficulties in the 1950's and 1960's in Macau provided the opportunity for pro-China elements to infiltrate these charitable institu-tions, when the newly established Hong Kong and Macau Office of the Coun-cil of States in Beijing was looking for opportunities to assert Communist in-fluence in Hong Kong and Macau.12 By offering free education, a child care service, and medical services through Neighbour Associations and Trade Un-ions, and by infiltrating the administrative ranks of Kiang Wu Hospital with its own pro-China men, the Chinese Communist Party was able to assert itsinfluence among the working classes in Macau.13 After the victory they se-cured in the December 1966 Riot, the pro-China associations began to put more emphasis on enlarging their pro-Chinese influence through their extended social services. With this socio-political orientation, social services offered by this sector acquired their own characteristics, which were completely differ-ent from those of Catholic institutions. Due to the adversity of ideology with the Catholic church, the pro-China associations not only have no idea of coop-erating or coordinating social services with Catholic social services institu-tions, but, recently they have also become the major rivals of Catholic institu-tions in securing what limited government subsidies are available for institu-tions which provide social services.

Characteristics of Caritas' Service

  Macau Caritas has been a pioneer in offering professional services in response to demands from the changing society of Macau, and was the source of supply of professional social workers to Macau society for more than ten years before the University of Macau and the Macau Polytechnic Institute took up the responsibility of training social workers in the early 1990's. Compared with other similar charitable institutions, Macau Caritas has the highest percent-age of professional social workers, and it has also been sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged, especially of those who function marginally in normal society, such as the homeless, homebound invalids and the mentally retarded. That is why it is the only institution which provides domestic helper services, outward bound youth services for wayward juveniles, women's centres, homes for the handicapped and rehabilitation services in Macau. Such desirable serv-ices, however, tanscend the notion of essential services, and yet these fulfil significant needs. All these services need professional staff. In other words, it is my opinion that the Catholic Church alone is making an adequate response to the social needs of this city which is going through the process of industri-alization.
  Low Cost Administration
  Since Caritas began her service with her one-man-bus type of operation with her highly religious motivation, it is natural for her to exhibit Christian characteristics - to serve instead of being served.14 Furthermore, a big portion of Caritas' income comes from abroad (nearly one third of the total). It is natu-ral for her to minimize the administrative expenditure and to maximize the expenditure of donated money for the clients' benefit. Thus, it is not surpris-ing to learn that only 10 percent of the total expenditure of 33 million dollars was spent on administration. This extremely low cost administration is notonly appreciated by others, but it also assures the place of Catholic social serv-ices beyond 1999. Some Macau government officials remark that if the Catho-lic Church refuses to carry on the social services which she is now undertak-ing, the government will have to spend 3-4 times more money than is used by Caritas now.15 After 1999, even given ideological differences with the SAR gov-ernment of Macau, the Catholic social services will be retained for financial reasons if not for political reasons.
  Apolitical Nature
  The driving force within Caritas Macau is religion. The Catholic Church offers her social services with the purpose of spreading the Gospel through good deeds. In addition to this, founder of Caritas of Macau, Fr. Luis Ruiz was a Spanish missionary who spent some time in China during the period of civil war between the KMT and CCP.
  The Catholic leaders in China at that time were either pro-KMT or mostly avoided any political involvement with the CCP. Young Fr. Luis Ruiz learned this very well in his days spent in China, and he brought this principle with him to Macau. During the past 40 years Caritas Macau has carefully maintained neutral-ity in political matters.
  Socio-Political Impacts
  The apolitical nature of Caritas of Macau leads to two results: first, it re-frains from acting as a middleman in dealings between the Macau govern-ment and the people. Second, it refrains from political agitation. However, the role of being the middleman and political agitation have slipped into the hands of the traditional pro-China associations. Take the Neighbourhood Associa-tions, for example. Not only do they run quite a number of nurseries for work-ing mothers, but also, on various occasions, they have acted as middlemen for the government. For example, in 1987 the Neighbourhood Association was in-vited by the Macau Government to distribute application forms to illegal im-migrants from China for registration as legal citizens. In the project of con-structing low cost houses, the Neighbourhood Association is very willing to shoulder the troublesome task of allotting them to the users. More than once, the same association took the place of the government in registering fire vic-tims in squatter areas, affording relief to the fire victims. They also even re-quested housing in which to resettle the victims of the Social Assistance De-partment of the Macau government.
  Organizing the Masses
  This, from which Caritas refrains, has been jealously promoted by pro-China associations and it has very strong political implications. The mass of people whose social welfare is promoted by any of the pro-China associations naturally look up to the pro-China associations as sources of authority. This has been seen duringthe Legislative Council elections in previous years. The pro-China candidates sup-ported by these associations won sweeping victories in the recent Legislative Coun-cil elections because voters followed the choice of those associations who had won the confidence of people in the process of rendering social services. In other words, the social services they rendered had reaped desirable political fruit in their own time, as suggested by Beijing. The nearer Macau comes to the end of the transi-tional period leading to the Chinese takeover in 1999, the more valuable this polit-ical effect reaped by social services will be. This political fruit which can be found in Macau, but not in Hong Kong, should be considered a very precious asset, be-cause in the Hong Kong Legislative Council election, the electoral result in 1991 revealed that no pro-China candidate was elected. Although some of these candi-dates were of good quality, yet, once their political stance was known to be pro-China, they were mercilessly defeated.16 This precious political asset is won pri-marily through social services by China in Macau.
  Complementarity with Pro-China Agents
  The apolitical nature of the Catholic social services and the political nature of the social services provided by the pro-China associations form a very sharp con-trast. Until recently, each of them has had its specific role to play, and they played their roles marvellously well. They are complementary to each other. The pro-China associations are not prepared to increase their professional quality, although they know quite well that there is plenty of room for qualitative improvement in the social services they provided because they deem this to be of secondary im-portance. What they wish to do is to organize both the masses and the business-men in the interests of the future SAR government. The Catholic Church has main-tained a low profile in political participation, thus it has been her policy not to cultivate political assets through social service, and furthermore, the church au-thority represented by veteran leaders like Fr. Louis Ruiz hold this attitude. If both of them maintain their present course they will be complementary to each other in rendering social service to Macau.
  The Socio-Political Impact: Possibility vs Feasibility
  The social involvement of the staff of Caritas of Macau, together with the pre-vailing social teaching of the Catholic Church have served as catalysts to stimu-late their staff to divert their orientation to agitating for social justice, which will lead to the mobilization of the mass eventually. In a recent discussion about old age pensions, Catholic social workers were contemplating assisting the elderly to have a sit-in, but Fr. Luis Ruiz advised the senior staff under him that dialogue would be better than demonstration. The church's nipping the problem in the bud at an early stage reflects the Church's refusal to mobilize the deeply entrenched potential of socio-political muscle which is part of the assets of the church agent. Maybe in good time, the Church will mobilize it.
  Many political analysts remark that in recent history the Church has become the only hope for a repressed society. Witness the indispensable role played by thechurch in Eastern Europe, South Africa and the Philippines when people strug-gled for freedom. Could this apply to Macau? Even though the Macau Church appears apolitical, she possesses such political power.


  The long history of the Catholic church in helping the government to offer social services to the underprivileged has gone through many changes. From serv-ing the small ghetto of Westerners who got stuck in Macau on their way some centuries ago, and from serving the Catholic Chinese community in the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church also extended her service to all Chinese in Macau disregarding their religion and faith after the Second World War. In extending charity to her brothers in suffering, the church has no intention of accumulating her socio-political assets. Yet the more Caritas helps the poor, and stands by the underprivileged, the greater chance there is that she will encounter oppression which calls for socio-political involvement. Recently Caritas for the first time be-gan to criticize the insufficiency of the social provisions of the Government via the mass media to the effect that the small amount of old age pension (565 patacas per month) is not enough for the basic needs of the elderly.
  Prosperity cannot wipe out the great poverty of everyone in Macau. The gov-ernment census report reveals that 128 households have no electricity, 1,176 fami-lies have no place for cooking, and 3,949 families do not cook properly in a kitchen. Most of them are located in the Fatima Parish where most new immigrants clus-ter.17 In other words, the relief services of the church are still needed if such de-prived conditions are still to be found in Macau. On the other hand, professionals and senior administrators have conceived the idea of converting the traditionally apolitical approach of Caritas over to one of social involvement.18 Right now the Church in Macau is at a crossroads. On one hand, it has gathered momentum in socio-political involvement which may invite the support of the masses in future, but among the inner circle of the Church not even a handful of clergy and nuns are ready for that. Without a tradition of trusting the laity, it seems that the Catho-lic church in Macau is not yet ready to plunge herself into socio-political issues, even though the progressive laity in the Caritas of Macau are ready. Nevertheless, the church has revealed that it has this precious political asset. How the church can develop this asset is a big concern for everyone who realizes how much reli-gion can affect politics. This may be a good topic for further study.


  The author would like to express her gratitude to the Reserach Council of the University of Macau which sponsored the research expenditure for this article. The author wishes to thank Dr. R. D. Kirk of the Faculty of Social Science and Humani-ties, University of Macau, for his helpful comments.

  1 M. Teixeira, M. Melchior Carneiro:futldador da Casa da Misericordia de Macau, (Macau: Comissao Executiva das Comemoracoes do IV Centenario da Santa Casa da Misericordia, 1969).
  2 B. V. Pires, "Origins and Early History of Macau," and M. Teixeira,"The Church in Macau," in Cretner, R. D. (ed.), Macau: City of Commerce and Culture (Hong Kong UEA Press, 1987).
  3 B. Leung and J. Lau, "St. Lazaro of Macau," paper read at the conference on "the Church History of Hong Kong," the Center of Asian studies, University of Hong Kong, 22-24 September 1993.
  4 Ibid.
  5 Enen Enen, Aiomen Shiwen Chaotan [The Preliminarv Study on Macau Society] (Hong Kong: Wen Shi Wei, 1992). The author has a comprehensive discussion on the social problems of Macau in the transitional period.
  6 Caritas Macau: 40 Years (Macau: Caritas of Macau. n.d.), p. 20.
  7 Ibid.
  8 The information on Caritas Macau in a leaflet "General Information on Serv-ice of Macau Caritas 1991".
  9 Ibid.
  10 Ibid.
  11 It was reported by the financial secretary of Caritas Macau in September 1993.
  12 It was revealed by Zichong Li, the former editor general of Wen Wai Pao, the pro-China newspaper in Hong Kong in October 1989, after Li was expelled from the Wen Wai Pao, because he was symaphetic with the pro-democratic movement in the 4th June 1989 Tiananmen Incident.
  13 Ibid.
  14 Caritas Macau: 40 Years, (Macau: Caritas of Macau n.d.), p. 20.
  15 It was revealed to the author by some Macau officials in the Education De-partment and Social Assistance Department, when they were interviewed by the author in October 1993.
  16 R. Kwok et al. (ed.) Votes Without Power (Hong Kong: H.K. University Press, 1992), Chapter 1.
  17 Censos de Macau 1991 (Direc玢o de Servi鏾s de Estat韘tica de Censos, Governo de Macau, 1992), p. 124.
  18 The author got this impression when she interviewed the senior administrators of Caritas in september 1993.