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In 1966 Father Yves Moal, then just 25 years old, sailed from the port of Marseilles. After more than a month at sea, the French priest made landfall in Hong Kong, then transferred to a ship bound for Taiwan. Embracing the island with love in his heart, he eventually took up a position in Yuli, Hualien County, where he has aided the homeless and the disabled by helping them recycle resources. Throughout his career, he has based his ministry on the belief that we are all God’s children, none of whom should be cast aside.
At five o’clock in the morning, Father Yves Moal is already at work in the kitchen, preparing a simple breakfast of fruit and foods nearing their “use by” dates, all donated by neighbors, for the people staying at Yuli’s Catholic church. The residents live simple lives, but all seem happy and satisfied.
The morning progresses, and by 7 a.m. the church’s reading room is packed with people in casual clothing. Fr. Moal first leads them in morning prayer, then workers assign them to different districts to collect the day’s recyclables, the Father’s friendly exhortations and their own encouragement of one another raising the curtain on another day.
A timely seed
A priest for more than 50 years, Moal’s connection to the church was forged at birth. Moal’s uncle, a deacon and Moal’s godfather, held the infant Moal during his baptism on the day of his birth in 1941 and named him Yves. His uncle had planned to become a priest and minister in Asia, but was killed during the war.
Moal learned his uncle’s story in his tweens, but at that time had little interest in his grandmother’s exhortations to fulfill his uncle’s mission. It was only after completing his military service in his 20s that he decided to enter a seminary in search of a meaningful life. When he later came to Taiwan, he brought with him a chalice his uncle had had made in anticipation of becoming a priest. Moal still uses the chalice, which is inscribed with his uncle’s name, to this day.
When Moal was sent to Taiwan, an older priest surnamed Cao gave him the Chinese surname Liu after Liu Bei, a key figure in China’s Three Kingdoms period, and the given name Yifeng (“one peak”). The latter was intended to echo the sound of his French given name and to embody the hope that he would provide strength and achieve lofty ends in mountainous Hualien. Moal has lived up to Cao’s expectations, protecting and serving as a bastion of support for the residents of Yuli and many others.
A Father from France
Soon after his arrival in Hualien, Fr. Moal noticed that many local children were being raised by their grandparents and spent their after-school hours roaming the streets, because their parents were working outside of the community. To provide shelter to kids with nowhere else to go, Moal established a reading room at the church where he was stationed at the time. He went on to create reading spaces in the townships of Ruisui and Yuli as well, and has remained steadfast in his support for children throughout his career.
But children aren’t the only ones who lack somewhere to go. Many adults have been pushed to society’s margins and subsequently overlooked as a result of alcoholism, physical or mental disability, or a criminal record. Moal has brought these people into his church as well, providing them with food and lodging, and helping them regain their dignity through work. When his efforts happened to coincide with a government initiative to promote recycling, Moal got his flock involved in recycling.
Healing wounded hearts
Father Moal brings anyone in need of help back to the church, arranging accommodations wherever he can. He even sold the land his parents left to him in France so that he wouldn’t have to turn away people in need.
As the number of people involved has grown, Moal has systematized their recycling efforts. “We sort items here, and have another workstation that strips the metals out of electrical appliances. PET bottles have to be separated out from other plastics, because they fetch a different recycling price,” says Moal, sharing some of the recycling knowledge he’s picked up over decades.
He also has his workers take on other tasks to which they are suited. For example, physically strong individuals are asked to drive to designated locations to collect recyclables from residents. People with limited mobility sort items at a recycling station, or help organize still-usable secondhand goods, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to develop and contribute.
Moal keeps the recycling center tidy and organized. With all the recyclables arranged by category, and the floor swept and mopped prior to the conclusion of each day’s work, it looks nothing like a stereotypically messy, mosquito-ridden recycling center.
Each recycling station also has basic kitchen amenities. Coworkers cook for one another, working, eating, cracking jokes, and occasionally even sharing their troubles. They’re like a big family, with Fr. Moal their revered patriarch.
Coming from different backgrounds, they sometimes argue, and a few fall back into bad habits, but Moal never gives up on any of them. He believes that living as a group allows them to give each other spiritual strength, helping themselves get back on track. His approach ensures that it’s not just materials that are put back into use, but also their own hearts.
Old clothing transformed
Moal also established a secondhand store to sell donated used goods. He sees the store as providing a place where people can “dig for treasure” and where those with little money can buy things they need at low cost. Moal stresses the importance of recycling during morning prayers, and then encourages his flock to value the work they do for the good it does both for themselves and for other disadvantaged persons.
Moal has named the shop, which opened this summer, the Brittany Fabric Crafts Shop in honor of his birthplace. There, seamstresses turn old clothes, curtain fabric, and hemp sacks into lovely bags and hats. They also accept custom orders from clients, who can give a beloved old garment new life by having it remade into a bag.
Building on this spirit of getting maximal use out of goods and materials, all the shop’s displays and decorations are themselves secondhand items, with an old hotpot serving as a flowerpot and a bicycle wheel as a display rack for necklaces. The church’s old stained-glass windows have even been repurposed as part of the décor.
Care for the aged, employment for adults
Father Moal’s concern for the disadvantaged made him the natural choice to lead the St. Andrew Training Center for the Disabled, located in Hualien’s Fuli Township, just to the south of Yuli. The center is home to nearly 50 mentally and physically disabled persons. Moal and his team there assign residents to groups based on their abilities, to take on tasks that include carpentry, sewing, baking and handicrafts, all carried out under the supervision of dedicated teachers. Residents receive care and treatment, but also help polish and assemble wooden furniture, or make mops and bamboo brooms, as a means of developing the ability to help themselves.
The center takes in disabled individuals over age 15 who need care, but because of the outdated design of its facilities it is unable to meet the needs of older residents who become bedridden. Moal therefore started thinking about establishing a nursing home. With center residents aging, he knew he couldn’t dawdle and so began raising money for the project in spite of his already busy schedule.
The compassionate support of people from all walks of life enabled Moal to begin work on the nursing home in 2016. Expected to house wheelchair-bound residents, the new home is designed accessibly, with wide entrances, halls, and rooms. Now that the exterior has been largely completed, the focus has shifted to the interior, and they hope to open in 2018. Moal can’t help but smile with satisfaction at the idea of center residents and other disabled individuals soon having somewhere to live in their waning years.
People like to say that Yuli has no litter and no homeless people, and that visitors needn’t fear if they lose their way. There’s a tangible reason for that: a Catholic priest has chosen to spend his adult life taking care of everyone in need. By turning recycling into a resource, Father Moal has enabled individuals whom society has abandoned or who have suffered other injuries to find value in their lives.