Italian priest to be given Taiwan citizenship

Taipei--Father Gian Carlo Michelini, an 81-year-old Catholic priest from Italy who founded the renowned Taiwanese children's folk dance troupe, the Lan Yang Dancers, will receive Taiwanese citizenship on Thursday in recognition of his invaluable contribution to Taiwan.

Michelini is set to become the first foreign national to be naturalized as a Taiwan 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.

Yilan County government said on Wednesday that Michelini's household will be registered in Yilan, where the priest is based.

Michelini, born in 1935 in Italy, 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 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 organized a tour of Italy for the troupe, where they performed in front of Pope Paul VI at the Vatican.

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

Michelini also helped spur the creation of the annual Yilan International Children's Folklore and Folkgame Festival in 1996. He has been credited with bringing many international troupes to the festival to perform, giving it an international dimension.

Ministry of the Interior officials and Wu Ze-cheng, acting magistrate of Yilan County, are scheduled to present the Taiwan citizenship card and household registry to the priest on Thursday.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council