MARYKNOLL (UCAN): Maryknoll Father Robert Astorino, founder of UCANews and its executive director for 30 years, died on June 25 at a hospital near the mission society’s headquarters in Ossining, New York, in the United States. He was 77-years-old.
A memorial Mass in Hong Kong is scheduled for June 30 at 7.30pm at Resurrection Church, 100 Tsui Ping Road, Kwun Tong, with Father Louis Ha as the main celebrant.
Father Astorino was born in New York City on 27 May 1943, and was educated in Catholic schools there before entering Maryknoll as a seminarian.
He was ordained in 1970 and, the following year, went to Hong Kong. After language studies, he became part of a Maryknoll team researching the situation of young people, 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 organisations, including the East Asia Catholic Press Association. He also taught journalistic writing at The Chinese University of Hong Kong begteween 1975 and1977.
Jesuit Father Michael Kelly, who succeeded Father Astorino as executive director of UCANews, 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.”
Father Astorino, who had earned graduate degrees in sociology from Fordham University and in journalism from Columbia University, 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 UCANews in 1979 to provide news of and for the Catholic Church in Asia.
Kelly said, “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, Father Astorino devoted his major energies to developing professionalism among Catholic journalists in Asia. He travelled 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.
Father 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 recognised him with the Bishop John England Award honouring “publishers who used the Catholic press to defend the rights of religion and individuals in a free society.”
May he rest in peace.