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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Pulumbarit

Lessons from Father Bob Astorino, UCA News founder

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

I didn't immediately shed a tear when I learned on the news that my former boss, Maryknoll Father Robert "Bob" Astorino, founder and executive director of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), passed away on June 25.

But just now, as I was praying while watching EWTN's live view of the Blessed Sacrament, my chest ached and my eyes shed tears as I prayed for the soul of Father Bob.

According to UCA News, Father Bob, who headed the Catholic news agency for 30 years, died at a hospital in New York at age 77.

Father Bob was born in New York City on May 27, 1943. He became a priest in 1970 at age 27. He went on to take graduate degrees in journalism from Columbia University and sociology from Fordham University, both in New York City.

He then moved to Hong Kong to help in the social communications apostolate of the Catholic Church throughout Asia. He also taught journalism at The Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1975 to 1977.

Then at age 36 in 1979, he founded UCA News in Hong Kong. UCA News now has 14 news bureaus covering 22 countries.

The Father Bob I remember

Seeing Father Bob's recent photos, I realized I wouldn't have recognized him if I saw him on the street or at a news conference.

His face seemed a little different, somewhat leaner. But he still had that grin that spread to his eyes, and I remember his good humor and bright disposition.

He never seemed to run out of amusing things to say. I remember when I first introduced him to my boyfriend, now husband Riz. Father Bob had flown in from Hong Kong and he treated us to dinner at a Chinese restaurant (he was very picky about Chinese restaurants as he was based in Hong Kong and loved Chinese food very much).

Father Bob was telling us stories about his childhood in New York City and Riz asked if he was Italian. Father Bob said, "My blood is Italian, my head is American, but my stomach is Chinese."

It was great that Father Bob loved Chinese food because I do as well. I had some of the best Chinese food at the UCA News Head Office in Hong Kong. Ironically, the cook there was a Filipina.

Father Bob said he found it easy to speak Chinese but he could never understand Tagalog. He said he was confused whenever he heard the Filipino staff in our Hong Kong office talking to one another.

"All I hear is ba. Babababababa," he said.

The Filipina cook explained that Father Bob found it amusing when he heard Filipinos speaking on the phone. "Ano ba? Kamusta na ba? Kailan ka ba babalik dito?"

Father Bob was even more amused when he saw two Filipinos talking inside the elevator. "Bababa ba? (Is this elevator going down?)," one asked and the other answered, "Bababa." (Yes, it's going down.)

He was amazed that the Filipinos understood one another just by saying "ba."

Lessons from Father Bob

Father Bob was once a journalism teacher and even when he was already the Executive Director of UCA News, he loved to teach journalism principles and ethics.

Every year, he gathered UCA News editors from different countries for a week of Editors' Training in Thailand.

Father Bob always reminded us to think of the people in the news. "When you hear of 'one billion Chinese,' think of the people behind the statistic. That is one Chinese plus one Chinese plus one Chinese plus one Chinese until you reach a billion."

Father Bob also loved to give "pop quizzes" during the lunch or dinner breaks of our Editors' Training in Thailand.

I remember we were having some Thai dessert when he suddenly asked me, "In journalism, which is more important, honesty or compassion?"

I answered,"honesty," but Father Bob said,"No, it's compassion because when you are compassionate, you will be honest and fair."

He said a compassionate journalist will always seek to tell the truth, always state both sides of a conflict, and always be sensitive to the personal situation of the people in the news.

That moment right there defined my whole journalistic career.

I was only 24 years old when I became the Deputy Editor of the UCA News office in Quezon City in 1993. I eventually moved to different news outfits but I never forgot what Father Bob said.

Thank you, Father Bob. We will never forget you and we will always pray for you.

The author worked for UCA News from 1993 to 1994. The head of the Philippine Bureau of UCA News then was Mrs. Peachy Yamsuan, wife of Mr. Noli Yamsuan, the "Pope's photographer."

READ: Veronica Pulumbarit's stories about Mr. Noli Yamsuan on GMA News Online:

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