Italian priest says Taiwan citizenship is ‘best birthday gift’

Taipei--Father Gian Carlo Michelini from Italy was presented with Taiwanese citizenship on Thursday, a day before his 82nd birthday, in recognition of his decades of contribution to Taiwan, with the priest calling his new status the best gift he could ask for.

"This is the best birthday gift. I want to do many more things for Taiwan!" Michelini said at a ceremony in Yilan County, where he was awarded the Taiwan citizenship card and household registry.

Best known for being the founder of the renowned Taiwanese children's folk dance troupe, the Lan Yang Dancers, Michelini said he had waited for a long time for this moment and had never dreamed that he would be able to receive the citizenship.

Michelini is the first foreign national to be naturalized as a Taiwanese citizen due to his contributions in the field of art and culture.

The passing of an amendment to Taiwan's Nationality Act in December last year allowed foreign nationals applying for citizenship to keep their original nationality if they are high-level professionals in technological, economic, educational, cultural, art, sports or other domains whose specialties are deemed to serve the interests of Taiwan.

At the ceremony on Thursday, the priest said he was not sent by his Catholic church to Taiwan 53 years ago, but he volunteered to come because he thought Taiwan was an important destination.

He urged the government to continue to support cultural development, saying it is the only way to help Taiwan progress forward.

Deputy Interior Minister Chiu Chang-yueh, Acting Yilan County Magistrate Wu Ze-cheng and Luo Feng-ping, wife of Vice President Chen Chien-jen presented the card and registry to the priest at the ceremony.

Michelini also celebrated his birthday at the event, cutting a cake that was prepared for him as he was surrounded by members of the Lan Yang Dancers.

The ceremony was held in Dongshan River Park, where the annual Yilan International Children's Folklore and Folkgame Festival is currently taking place.

Michelini helped spur the creation of the festival in 1996 and has been credited with giving it an international dimension by bringing many international troupes there to perform.

Born in 1935 in Italy, the priest first came to Taiwan at the age of 29 as a member of the Camillian Order. In 1966, he established the Lan Yang Youth Catholic Center and subsequently the Lang Yang Dancers in the northeastern county of Yilan.

The center offered dance, music and art classes and organized sports competitions, while the Lang Yang Dancers gained nationwide acclaim for its folk dance performances.

In 1974, at a time when Taiwan was diplomatically isolated from the international community, Michelini was able to organize a tour of Italy for the troupe, where they performed in front of Pope Paul VI at the Vatican and brought Taiwanese folk art to the world stage.

The troupe has since toured over 30 countries and given more than 1,000 performances.

In 1990, because of the outstanding achievements of the Lang Yang Dancers, Michelini was invited to attend a conference of the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts (CIOFF), an official partner of UNESCO.

Four years later, Taiwan became a member of CIOFF. and Michelini, who is secretary-general of CIOFF Chinese Taipei, continues to promote Taiwanese folk art both locally and globally.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council