BY MOIRA SHAW IN HONG KONG
A Jason' priest has returned to Portugal after he was kidnapped in Macau, smuggled into mainland China, held in a hotel for 48 hours and later freed by Chinese security officers who had been alerted to the abduction by Interpol.
Later, while Fr Benjamin Vidiera Pires SJ was recovering from the ordeal, a second attempt was made to kidnap the 83-year-old priest on 2 July in Macau's busy central square.
Two Portuguese priests who were accompanying him, his brother, Fr Francisco Vidiera Fires and Fr Joao Calado, prevented two women from snatching the wheelchairbound priest. Passersby stood aghast as priests battled the two screaming schoolteachers who eventually fled when police arrived. Fr Pires was put under police protection until he left Macau.
The incidents were the latest in a long-running controversy over the Institute D Melchior Carneiro school, of which Fr Pires was the principal for 37 years. Although the Jesuits in Macau own the property, their attempts to close the school and sell the land were blocked by Fr Pires, school teachers and a small group of people who have been living on the school property rent free. The site of the school, opposite the ruins of St Paul's cathedral, Macau's main tourist attraction, is estimated to be worth billions of Hong Kong dollars.
Fr Fires' brother had travelled from Portugal to persuade his elder brother to return home. This apparently led to the kidnapping and second attempted abduction by staff at the school who feared that they would lose influence over the elderly priest. Fr Pires controlled the school's finances and supported staff attempts to jeep the school open.
Eleven teachers and staff of the school face charges of kidnapping, smuggling and immigration violations. Two face a second charge of attempted kidnapping.