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Chinese Trappist monk celebrates his 110th birthday in life of prayer

A Chinese monk from the Trappist order, the Rev. Nicholas Kao Se-tsean, who is believed to be one of the world’s oldest Roman Catholic priests, has celebrated his 110th birthday with family and friends in Hong Kong.

Kao concelebrated a special Mass on 15 January at the Lady of Joy Abbey (Hong Kong), the place where he has lived and prayed.  About 100 people from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan and Malaysia, places where he had served, shared the monk’s joy.

Friends of Kao who visit him at the monastery say that whenever he is asked for the secret to his long life he says: "Forgo anger, tobacco, intoxication and gluttony in favour of exercise, humility, charity, prayer and patience."

Among those at the Kao’s 110th birthday were his great-nephews, as well as Catholics who he baptised.

The Hong Kong Standard newspaper in 2005 described Kao as "a thin, gentle and good-humoured man with a full, flowing white beard who walks with the aid of a three-legged cane and peers at the world through large tortoise shell-rimmed spectacles".

In an 8 October 2005 interview, the Standard quoted Kao saying, "Cats are my favourite animal. We have eight here and caring for them gives me determination to carry on. Some people play mahjong [a popular Chinese gambling game]. Cats are like my mahjong."

Kao was born in Fujian province, eastern China, on 15 January 1897.  After his ordination as a priest in 1933, Kao served the local cathedral for a while, then embarked on missionary activity in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand for the following 40 years.

He joined a Trappist monastery in 1972 and started living as a monk. He prays seven times a day and used to work in a small farm in the community. Kao once said that "What can I do was so little. And I pray… God can change the situation."

According to Hong Kong media reports, the Guinness Book of World Records stated that the longest living priest was Alvaro Fernandez (1880-1998) in Spain.

(c) Ecumenical News International