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October 11 1996

After 45 years of service, Caritas Macau has taken root as the largest charitable organization in this Portuguese enclave and intends to continue accompanying the needy beyond 1999, when Macau reverts to China.

It is important for Caritas to "demonstrate its indispensable professional role in providing social services even beyond 1999," Caritas Macau secretary general Paulo Pun Chi-meng told UCA News Oct. 4.

Stressing the importance of Caritas´ neutrality and low profile in politics, especially during the present transitional period, Pun asserted that "if we are really doing something good for society, China will recognize our work."

In 1951, founder and president of Caritas Macau Jesuit Father Luiz Ruiz Suarez sowed the seeds for Caritas by providing for the basic needs of refugees who were then escaping to Macau from the civil war in China.

Over the years, services were diversified to respond to the new problems and needs of an increasingly complex society.

In 1971, Father Suarez´s Centro Social Mateus Ricci was renamed Caritas Macau and became a diocesan organization and part of Caritas Internationalis.

With over 300 staff members, Caritas is now Macau´s largest social service organization, providing elderly, family, youth, education, rehabilitation and counseling hot-line services in addition to services for the sick, handicapped and homeless through more than 30 service units.

In the coming years, Caritas plans to develop hospice care for the dying, which is currently lacking in Macau, Pun added. Services for school drop-outs and vocational training for youth will also be expanded.

The growing number of new immigrants from China poses a new challenge for Caritas, since they tend to have big families and many of their children do not go to school because they cannot catch up with the curriculum, according to Caritas social worker Margarida Cheong Siou.

Less educated new immigrants often have a hard time finding jobs, especially since Macau is in a recession and its unemployment rate has grown to a recent high of 4.7 percent.

According to 83-year-old Portuguese Father Suarez, emergency relief, such as assisting the unemployed, is a major part of Caritas´ work.

Caritas also has difficulty hiring enough social workers, since it cannot afford competitive salaries, Pun said. It often relies on former service recipients and volunteers as supportive forces of its work.

Candice Ho, a youth center worker, said she remembers getting help from Father Suarez when she was small and so is willing to help Caritas.

According to Pun, the government has also supported Caritas in a cooperative relationship, sponsoring over 60 percent of Caritas´ social services.

Funds raised in the annual Caritas Bazaar and donations from Macau´s gambling and entertainment industries also constitute an important part of Caritas´ income, he added.

Caritas Macau will celebrate its 45th anniversary on Dec. 15 with a fund-raising dinner party, through which it expects to raise 1 million pataca (US$126,200) for its 1997 emergency relief fund.