Maryknoll Father Robert Astorino launched UCA News in 1979. (Photo: Christopher Khoo)
Maryknoll Father Robert Astorino, founder of UCA News and executive director of the agency for 30 years, died June 25 at a hospital near the mission society’s headquarters in New York State in the United States. He was 77 years old.
Following his ordination in 1970, Astorino went to Hong Kong in 1971 and after language studies was part of a Maryknoll team who researched the situation of youth, many of them children of refugees from mainland China, in the Kwun Tong area of Kowloon.
In 1974, he became involved in the social communications apostolate in Hong Kong and throughout Asia. He helped launch the Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office and was its assistant director for several years. He served in various positions in the Asia branches of several international Catholic media organizations, including the East Asia Catholic Press Association. He also taught journalistic writing at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1975-1977.
Jesuit Father Michael Kelly, who succeeded Astorino as executive director of UCA News, said: "Bob was especially alive to the needs of the emerging Churches in Asia in the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Kelly continued: “The Catholic Church in Asia had grown and developed to a new stage and both national and regional bishops’ conferences and international agencies were sprouting up as the first fruits of the post-Vatican II renewal of previously mostly colonially-founded and based Catholic communities in Asia."
Astorino, who had earned graduate degrees in sociology from Fordham University and in journalism from Columbia University, both in New York City, saw that the Churches of Asia needed a means of communicating their experiences and missions with one another without passing through Western filters.
After conducting a feasibility study on church information needs in Asia, he launched UCA News in 1979 to provide news of and for the Catholic Church in Asia.
Kelly added: "Bob married media professionalism to a passion for the Church in Asia to develop its outstanding news media channel," eventually establishing 14 news bureaus to cover 22 countries.
In the course of shepherding the agency, Astorino devoted his major energies to developing professionalism among Catholic journalists in Asia. He traveled throughout the continent to conduct training seminars to develop the quality of news reporting, feature writing and analytic assessments provided by UCAN reporters and commentators. Many of those he trained not only continued to work in Catholic journalism but also went on to develop careers in secular journalism.
Astorino’s work on behalf of Catholic journalism drew recognition from various sources. He was appointed a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications. In 1998, the Catholic Press Association in the United States recognized Astorino with the Bishop John England Award honoring "publishers who used the Catholic press to defend the rights of religion and individuals in a free society."
Robert F. X. Astorino was born in New York City on May 27, 1943, and was educated in Catholic schools there before entering Maryknoll as a seminarian.