Father Yves Nalet

“Grandpa” to the Atayal of Jianshi
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2019 / October

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


Popular around the world, the “Adventures of Tintin” comic albums feature prominently in the collective memories of many.

The French priest Yves Nalet was one of many who grew up reading the Tintin books. When Nalet was little, his family often moved between various French cities. Nalet spent part of his military service in Hong Kong, and later studied in Tianjin before working in publishing in Hong Kong for ten years. Then in 1994 he moved to Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, where he did research and taught.

Eventually, Nalet settled down amid the beautiful mountains of Jianshi Township in Taiwan’s Hsinchu County, where he lovingly accompanies the Atayal children and seniors who live there. Nalet is like a real-life Tintin, passionately greeting each of life’s adventures.


 

Some 20 years ago, Yves Nalet rode a bicycle from New Taipei City’s Xinzhuang to Jianshi. The 70 kilo­meters took him three and a half hours. To continue offering mass to mountain residents, he would go on to make the trip ­every week for five years running.

From academia to mountain forests

Nalet grew up in France, where he joined the Society of Jesus at 18. With the encouragement of the order’s superior general, Nalet decided to study Chinese and English at a French university. After earning a master’s degree at a seminary, he won an exchange scholarship to study in China and went to Tianjin to study Chinese history.   

In 1984 Nalet moved to Hong Kong to work on the editorial staff of the Jesuit newsletter China News Analysis. The publication focused on economics, politics, civil service reform, and so forth, providing information about China to university libraries and diplomatic missions.

Nalet worked in Hong Kong for a decade, up until the city’s future seemed uncertain with its handover to China looming. In 1994 he and the rest of the magazine’s editor­ial team moved to Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, where they continued publishing until 1998. Nalet, who was awarded a doctorate in France in 1980, then stayed on at the university, teaching and conducting research into Chinese culture. Upon learning that Jianshi in Hsinchu County lacked a priest, Nalet began riding his bicycle to that rural township every week to conduct mass.

Jianshi is largely Atayal Aborigine. Optimistic by nature, local people have a lot in common with the straight-­shooting Nalet. After several years, Nalet developed a deeper and deeper connection with them. “In 2003 I faced a choice: Although I could have continued as a professor at Fu Jen, I really wanted to do something for dis­advantaged and underserved communities.” So at age 55 Nalet decided to move to Jianshi to become a parish priest.

Grandpa Priest

Farming and bamboo production are the dominant industries in this agricultural community, where work doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays. For the many children who are left unaccompanied on days off from school, the Jiale Catholic Church, where Nalet is the priest, serves as playground. The children run around outside or make delicious desserts with Father Nalet in the little kitchen. When the baked goods come out of the oven, the children sit at the entrance to the church to eat them, with smiles on their faces. What warm companions Nalet’s authentic French desserts make for these Aboriginal children!

On the second floor of the church Nalet occasionally screens movies for the children, including Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, which is a historical dramatization about Aborigines, and The Adventures of Tintin, a cartoon adventure series. Tintin is Nalet’s favorite cartoon ­character from his own childhood. He jokes that he is a Tintin expert, and he clearly enjoys sharing Tintin stories with the children. Steadfast and fearless in the face of evil, Tintin aspires to the universal ideal of peace. He also embodies a hope that Nalet holds for his charges—“that they grow up to become good people!”

During our interview, several children run over to the church. When they see Nalet, they snuggle up to him playfully. Nalet, meanwhile, takes the magazine we’ve brought and begins to quiz the children on English, slowly testing them letter by letter and sound by sound, both patiently instructing the children and reminding them to behave themselves—much like a kind and caring grandfather.

When discussing his charges, Nalet’s face shows concern. “They are very cute,” he says. “But their lives aren’t easy.” Unafraid of strangers, their eyes seem filled with innocence and curiosity. But what we don’t see is the economic distress experienced by their families: Their parents are too busy making ends meet to guide their children’s education. 

Many of the families here in the back country make a living by growing peaches. This spring the temperatures in the mountains were too warm too soon. The fruit trees budded too early and then heavy rain destroyed their blooms. There ended up being virtually no crop to harvest. Nalet understands that these circumstances mean that many families can’t afford tuition, so he raised funds from friends to provide tuition to struggling families. “If you can’t pay tuition, you can’t get an education,” says a concerned Nalet. “If you can’t get an education, you have no future.”

Priest as teacher

Nalet always tells children that even to get a factory job they’ve got to graduate from senior high school at the very least. Going to college would be better, he emphasizes. Consequently, he has been working with Yu­feng Ele­mentary School since 2007. Every Wednesday afternoon he teaches English and Bible class there as a volunteer.

When Nalet walks into the school, children of all grades run up to say hello. Nalet knows the children’s Atayal names, who their parents are, and which ones are brothers and sisters. After teaching these classes for more than a decade, almost all the youths of this part of Jianshi have been his students.

Nalet shifts between being a stern taskmaster and providing timely and loving direction. He praises students when they answer correctly. If they are too timid to speak, he encourages them to practice the dialogue. We stay in the back of the classroom watching Nalet interact with the children. The younger children squirm in their seats and talk out of turn. After one 40-minute class, we feel like we’ve aged a few years from just observing—but Nalet maintains his patience and composure from start to finish.

After English class, Nalet shows some cartoons on Bible stories. Drawing lessons from the stories depicted on screen, he reminds the children of the importance of treating people well. In contrast to their rowdy behavior during the previous class, the children watch with rapt concentration. Seeds of kindness are being planted in their hearts.

One big family

When his classes let out every Wednesday, Nalet drives to visit tribal communities even deeper in the mountains. “On the right is Mt. Dabajian, and then Xueshan and the Thyakan Atayal community. The Tayax community is on those mountains up ahead….” Standing on the observation deck at Yulao, Nalet scans the mountain ridges layered in front of him and describes the local geography with perfect assurance.

Transportation in the back country remains challenging, and public transit can only get you to Naluo in Jinbing Village. As we ride in Nalet’s car, we gain a sense of how confidently he traverses the mountains, not even slowing down on the curves. He used to ride his bicycle 100 kilometers or more along these roads so that parishioners with limited mobility could hear mass and enjoy God’s blessings.

Nalet comes to these believers, who are mostly old, sick and poor, because they can’t make it to the church. But even more importantly, he comes to talk with them about their current situations and find out how they are getting on. Nalet’s concern lets these tribal elders know that they are not alone, that someone understands their pain and hardships.

As Nalet passes by on the way to visit these parish­ioners, the children call out to him: “Father, Father!” Some of them rush up to hug him. It is almost as if he were the patriarch of a large family. When he happens upon someone, he always asks how they are and listens to what they have to say about their lives. More than merely saying hello, he really wants the best for everyone.

In the evening, some of the people of Yufeng Village gather at the house of a fellow believer. In Atayal communities out here, Nalet conducts services in parish­ioners’ homes. After hymns, Bible readings and communion, everyone eats a meal prepared by the hosts. On the day when he received his national ID card on being granted ROC citizenship in 2017, he said to his congregation: “Thank you for accepting me and giving me this opportunity to spend time with you.” Jianshi has become Nalet’s home, and he has become a stalwart source of support for community members.            

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行遍尖石,用愛相伴

部落的神父南耀寧

文‧陳群芳 圖‧林旻萱

風靡全球、由比利時漫畫家艾爾吉所創作的連載漫畫《丁丁歷險記》,故事主角丁丁在世界各地經歷了無數冒險,勇敢對抗壞蛋追殺,拼湊線索、發掘匪徒的詭計等,是許多人的共同記憶。

來自法國的神父南耀寧小時候也是看著《丁丁歷險記》長大,至今他對丁丁的喜愛依舊。現實生活裡,南耀寧的童年因為父親工作的關係經常搬家,在法國的城市間移動;18歲加入修會後,南耀寧曾在香港當兵、天津進修,之後在香港出版刊物10年;然後他在1994年來到台灣輔仁大學從事研究與教學工作。

在上天的安排下,一直住在城市的南耀寧,最後落腳在新竹尖石的美麗山區。他教英文、做點心,用愛陪伴部落孩子與老人。南耀寧像是真實版的丁丁,始終用熱情迎接人生的每趟歷險。


 

八月暑假的尾聲,我們從台北出發,開車行經高速公路,歷時一個半鐘頭抵達新竹尖石的嘉樂天主堂。很難想像,20年前,南耀寧神父竟是從新莊騎腳踏車到尖石,單程三個半小時、70公里的路程,連續五年到山中為居民主持彌撒。

從學者走入山林

出生法國的南耀寧,從小就受到天主的感召,18歲時便決定加入修會,將自己的一生交予天主。在會長的鼓勵下,南耀寧在法國大學修讀中文與英文,引起他對中華文化的興趣。神學院碩士畢業後便申請中法交流獎學金,至天津南開大學進修中國歷史。

1984年南耀寧移居香港,負責耶穌會刊物《China News Analysis》的編撰。「我們當時訂了27份報紙、50種雜誌,以剪報分類的方式蒐集資料。」南耀寧表示,刊物內容有經濟、政治、公務員制度改革等。南耀寧與同事在縝密的閱讀中進行分析報導,為許多大學圖書館及大使館提供了專業的中國研究資料。

這份工作南耀寧在香港做了10年,直到香港移交前局勢不穩,他在1994年連同期刊團隊搬到台灣的輔仁大學,繼續編撰到1998年才停刊。擁有博士學位的南耀寧留在輔仁大學從事中國文化研究與教學工作。期間聽聞新竹尖石缺神父,南耀寧便每周騎單車到尖石為居民主持彌撒。

尖石鄉的居民以泰雅族原住民為主,天性樂觀,與南耀寧的直率有幾分相似,幾年的相處,南耀寧和當地的感情也越來越深。 「2003年我面臨了選擇,我可以繼續留在輔大當教授,但我想為有痛苦的、辛苦的人做事情。」最終南耀寧決定搬到尖石擔任本堂神父,那年他55歲。

部落孩子的神父阿公

山裡的居民多以砍竹或務農維生,週六、週日也沒有休息。許多孩子假日沒人陪伴,南耀寧所在的嘉樂天主堂就成了孩子的遊樂場。孩子或在外面空地跑跑跳跳,或是跟著南耀寧一起製作美味的法式點心,小小的廚房裡孩子圍繞在南耀寧身旁,當他的小助手。烘烤時間結束,香味四溢,孩子們坐在教堂門口一起享用,臉上滿是幸福的笑容。南耀寧製作的道地法式點心,成為部落孩子最溫暖的陪伴。

偶爾遇到周末下雨,南耀寧便會在天主堂二樓放映影片給孩子看。有講述原住民故事的《賽德克.巴萊》,也有描繪奇幻冒險的《丁丁歷險記》。童年時的南耀寧最喜歡漫畫人物丁丁,常常會跟同學互相考驗每一集的場景、出場人物等。對丁丁的故事滾瓜爛熟的南耀寧,笑稱自己是丁丁的專家,常常題目還沒念完,他就已經講出答案。如今他也將這個陪伴他童年時光的卡通人物與尖石的孩子分享。正直、不畏惡勢力的丁丁,追求和平的普世價值,也正是南耀寧對孩子們的期望,「成為良善的好人吧!」

採訪時幾位孩童跑來天主堂,孩子一見到南耀寧便很自然地依偎在他身旁撒嬌玩耍。南耀寧也就地取材,拿起雜誌,考考他們上頭的英文怎麼念,一個字、一個音節慢慢引導。在與孩子相處的日常裡,時而耐心教導、時而提醒孩子不能搗蛋,南耀寧像極了照顧孫子的阿公。

談起部落的孩子,南耀寧臉上滿是心疼。「他們很可愛,但是不容易的。」南耀寧說。我們看這些孩子不怕生,眼神充滿純真與好奇。但我們看不到的,是偏鄉家庭的經濟困難,父母自顧不暇無力教養。

許多後山居民以種植水蜜桃維生,今年夏天山上氣溫不夠冷,果樹提早開花,又被大雨打落花苞,居民幾乎沒有水蜜桃可以收成,收入成了問題。南耀寧明白這樣的情況會讓很多家庭付不出學費,所以他向朋友籌募經費,為經濟困難的家庭負擔學費。「沒有學費就不能讀書,不能讀書就沒有未來。」南耀寧憂心地說。

南神父上課囉!

偏鄉教育的現況經常是孩子學習興趣不高,碰到英文更是還沒嘗試就宣告放棄。南耀寧相信教育是孩子的未來,他總是告訴孩子,至少要念到高中畢業,將來才有機會去工廠上班,若可以上大學就更好。所以自2007年起他便與玉峰國小合作,每周三下午義務前往教授英文課及道理課。

當南耀寧走在學校,一路上每個孩子不分年級都蹦蹦跳跳地從教室跑出來和他打招呼。孩子的族語名字、家長是誰、有哪些兄弟姊妹,南耀寧通通一清二楚。十多年不間斷地替孩子們上課,幾乎尖石後山的孩子都曾是南耀寧的學生,甚至還有學生的孩子如今也成為南耀寧的學生。

上課鐘聲響起,南耀寧時而嚴肅的管秩序,時而慈祥引導。答對他直接口頭給予肯定;不敢開口的,南耀寧就一次次鼓勵孩子練習會話;就算答錯,他也是耐心提示孩子講出正確的句子。我們在教室後方看著南耀寧與孩子的互動,低年級的孩子上課難免坐不住而吵鬧,一堂40分鐘的課程,我們僅是旁觀就覺得好像老了幾歲,但南耀寧始終很有耐性。下課時還笑著說:「給低年級上課真的很不容易是吧!」語氣裡只有了然於心的淡定,絲毫沒有想放棄的不耐。

接在英文課後的,是南耀寧為孩子準備的聖經故事動畫。他因應故事的關聯性,有時帶入泰雅族的傳說,有時候則藉著影片裡的情節,提醒孩子做人為善的道理。看著孩子們聚精會神地欣賞影片,與前一堂課的鬧哄哄截然不同,不論將來孩子的信仰為何,那顆勸人向善的種子,就在南耀寧的陪伴下種進孩子心裡。

山林裡的一家人

每週三玉峰國小的課程結束後,南耀寧便開車探視深山部落裡的居民。「右邊是大霸尖山,再來是雪山、泰崗、玉峰,前方山上有抬耀部落……」站在宇老觀景台上,南耀寧面著眼前層層疊疊的山巒,如數家珍的介紹尖石鄉的地理位置。宇老海拔1,400公尺、馬妹1,500公尺、抬耀1,300公尺,南耀寧就連海拔也都瞭若指掌,他開玩笑地說,整座山都是他管的,服務面積大,老鼠都比人還多。

後山交通不便,就連大眾運輸最遠也只能搭到前山的那羅,要深入後山就只能自己開車。我們坐在南耀寧開著的車上,感受他怡然自得的穿梭在山路間,過彎也不減速,一般人一個半小時的車程,南耀寧一小時就能抵達。更令人難以想像的是,這至少100公里的山路,他早期竟然都是騎腳踏車上山,為行動不便的教友送聖體,將上帝的祝福送到他們手中。

這些教友可能是中風坐輪椅、也可能是獨居在貨櫃屋中,他們或老、或病、或窮,南耀寧不單是因為他們無法上教堂作彌撒而來,更重要的是,前來探視,聊聊近況。南耀寧的關心讓部落長者知道自己不孤單,他們的苦痛有人理解,南耀寧一直與部落同在。

隨著南耀寧探視教友的一路上,小孩子看到南耀寧總是大老遠就「神父,神父」地喊著,還有的孩子會衝上前擁抱他,一邊撒嬌說自己很想他。每位居民都會停下腳步與南耀寧寒暄閒聊,南耀寧像是部落的大家長,逢人就問「好嗎?」,傾聽居民的近況,這不僅是打招呼,更是南耀寧一直期望的──每個人都好好的。

夜幕低垂,玉峰村的居民齊聚在一位教友家中,南耀寧每周三晚上都會在部落舉行家庭禮拜。大家一起唱詩歌、讀聖經,彌撒過後,南耀寧會與大家一起吃著屋主準備的家常菜。領取中華民國身分證的那天,南耀寧對居民說:「謝謝你們接受了我,讓我有機會和你們在一起。」南耀寧與尖石居民一起分享喜樂,也一起分擔痛苦;尖石成為南耀寧的家,而他也成為居民心中那股沉靜而強大的支持力量。   

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