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ASIA/China – Farewell to missionary Tommy Murphy, friend of the Church and the Chinese people

Beijing – Everyone in China called him Chen Fa-yi. He, like the great Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, had also wanted to take a Chinese name. Father Tommy Murphy, a good-natured Irish missionary who had been ill for some time, ended his mission and his life on this earth on Saturday, January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. His funeral was held in Hong Kong on Saturday, January 28, the day of the liturgical commemoration of Thomas Aquinas, the saint of his name, great theologian and Doctor of the Church. For days, in China and around the world, countless memories, portraits, speeches and simple greetings circulated on social networks to attest to the grateful memory of so many brothers and sisters for having had the gift of walking side by side for so long with the missionary friend of the Church in China and the Chinese people. “The passing of Father Chen Fa-yi,” said Jesuit Stephen Chow Sau Yan, Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong, in statements re-launched by the Xinde newspaper, “is indeed a great loss for our local Church and for all the brothers and sisters who met him on the Continent. The zeal, humility and cultural openness with which he pursued his vocation as a priest and missionary arouse admiration. We are convinced that he will continue to support us, interceding for us in the Kingdom of Heaven. And may he be happy forever, in the infinite embrace of the Lord”.
The celebration of Father Tommy’s funeral, presided over by Bishop Chow, also saw the participation, as concelebrants, of Cardinal John Tong Hon, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, as well as several Columban missionary confreres and about 25 priests from the same diocese.
The hundreds of people present at the mass were also able to trace the life of Father Murphy thanks to the collection of photographs on display, which represent him at different points in his journey, from his early years in Ireland to his last days.
Tommy Murphy was born in Castlebar, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland, on August 3, 1949. He joined the Missionary Society of St. Columba and did missionary work in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China. His mortal remains are buried in the Columban Fathers’ cemetery in Ireland.
Throughout his life, Father Murphy always carried a special concern for the affairs of Chinese Catholics in his heart. This vocation was expressed concretely in the long years of teaching and spiritual direction he offered at the National Seminary in Beijing and in several other Seminaries in the country. For decades, the Irish-born missionary took special care in organizing spiritual exercises for priests, seminarians, nuns and lay people. Today, on websites run by Chinese Catholics, people hasten to recall that the missionary “was part of the Chinese Catholic family, he was part of the house”. Murphy had also served as Superior general of the Missionary Society of St. Columba since 2006. During the time of his tenure, the general house of the Columban Fathers moved from Dublin to Hong Kong, in order to closely follow and support the work of proclaiming the Gospel and bearing witness to Jesus among the Chinese people.

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