Italian priest receives ROC citizenship for cultural contributions

Rev. Gian Carlo Michelini of Italy was officially granted citizenship of the Republic of China (Taiwan) July 6 in recognition of his lifelong dedication to fostering the nation's cultural environment, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

At a ceremony held on the eve of Michelini's 83th birthday in northeastern Taiwan's Yilan County, MOI Deputy Minister Chiu Chang-yeuh praised the Catholic priest for working tirelessly for over 50 years to promote the country on the global stage through cultural exchanges.

In response, Michelini described his new status as the best birthday present he has ever received. It is a great honor to become a citizen of the country. I can call myself a Taiwanese from now on, he said.

The priest is the first foreigner to be naturalized for contributions in the fields of arts and culture under recent changes to the Nationality Act. Amendments to the act promulgated Dec. 21 last year enable foreigners applying for naturalization to keep their original nationality if they meet certain conditions such as possessing high-level professional skills in the fields of art, culture, economics, education, sports, technology or other domains, or have made exceptional contributions to the development of the nation.

Born in 1935 in Bologna, Michelini came to the country in 1964 as a priest in the Camillian Order. He first studied Mandarin in northern Taiwan's Hsinchu County before settling down in Yilan.

Rather than providing medical services as is typical of a member of his order, Michelini opted to focus on developing cultural programs with the goal of inspiring the country's youth. In 1966, he founded the Lan Yang Youth Catholic Center, which offers a variety of extracurricular activities for young students.

Building on arts programs organized at the center, Michelini set up the Lan Yang Dancers, a renowned children's folk dance troupe. In the decades since, the group has performed more than 1,000 shows around the world, including at the Vatican before Pope Paul VI in 1974.

Due to the success of the troupe, Michelini was invited in 1990 to attend a conference of the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF), a group affiliated with UNESCO, paving the way for Taiwan to become an official member of CIOFF four years later.

Michelini has also played an important behind-the-scenes role in the success of the annual Yilan International Children's Folklore and Folkgame Festival, which has become one of the country's premier celebrations of artistic traditions from around the world. Launched in 1996, the event, the only CIOFF recognized festival in Taiwan, has featured 321 overseas groups and attracted 9 million visitors as of 2016.

Source: Taiwan Today