Priest thanks Taiwanese for NT$120 million in donations for Italy

Father Giuseppe Didone

TAIPEI (CNA) — Father Giuseppe Didone (呂若瑟) issued an open letter Tuesday thanking Taiwanese for donating NT$120 million (US$3.97 million) in six days to a fundraising campaign he launched to help fight the new coronavirus outbreak in Italy.

Didone appealed on April 1 for donations to be made to the fundraising center of Camillian Saint Mary’s Hospital Luodong for the purchase of emergency medical provisions, including surgical face masks and protective gowns, for medical personnel in Italy, which has recorded 132,547 cases and 16,523 deaths from the disease, as of Monday.

Though the fundraising deadline was originally set for April 15, Didone said he had decided to stop accepting donations Tuesday, after “exceeding all expectations” by raising NT$120 million from more than 20,000 donors.

In the letter, Didone said the hospital is determining what types of supplies it can purchase in Taiwan without violating current government restrictions on the purchase and export of medical supplies.

For those items that cannot be purchased in Taiwan, the hospital will ask its parent organization — the Camillian Order — for help obtaining them abroad.

The hospital also hopes to send a portion of the funds to Camillian Order leadership in Italy, to be used based on the recommendations of local public health authorities, Didone said.

“In the last few days, I’ve seen a late-stage cancer patient come to the hospital to make a donation. I’ve seen an old vegetable vendor waiting in line to donate surgical face masks and some of her earnings. Can you imagine how it has moved me to see this?” Didone said.

The outpouring of support from Taiwanese society has “made me even more certain of the reason I decided to spend my life here,” he said.

In an interview with CNA on Saturday, Lee Li-chiu (李麗秋), director of the hospital’s fundraising center, described the community’s response by saying that “love increases in size like a snowball.”

In one case, which Didone referred to in his letter, an 83-year-old vegetable vendor from Yilan County’s Dongshan District came to the hospital to donate eight surgical face masks and NT$800 from her weekly earnings, according to staff at the fundraising center.

In another instance, a senior citizen living in Yilan’s Jiaoxi Township made a donation to repay the medical care he received at the hospital 51 years ago when he was badly injured in an industrial accident, fundraising staff said.

Meanwhile, Yilan City Mayor Chiang Tsung-yuan (江聰淵) donated NT$100,000 from the government, and set up a fundraising location in downtown Yilan which had received NT$1.2 million as of Monday.

The hospital’s fundraisers said many of the donors wished to repay the Order’s Italian priests, who have spent decades building health care services in rural Taiwan.

Didone, who first came to Taiwan in 1965 and is now in his 80s, established special care centers for intellectually disabled people in Penghu and Yilan counties, and currently works at Camillian Saint Mary’s Hospital in Luodong.

In 2017, Didone and his late brother Antonio were among six members of the Camillian Order to receive Taiwanese citizenship, in recognition of their contributions to Taiwanese society.