Maryknoll missionary priest Robert F. X. Astorino, who pioneered the spread of church media in Asia, died at a New York hospital on June 25. He was 77 years old.
The news was confirmed by the priest’s sister, Jeanette Astorino Fitch. “I ask for prayers for me and my family,” she said in a social media post.
Father Astorino was born in New York City on May 27, 1943.
In 1970, he was ordained a priest of the Maryknoll missionary institute and was sent to Hong Kong the following year to work with young people, mostly children of refugees from China.
A graduate of sociology from Fordham University and journalism from Columbia University, the young priest got involved in social communications in 1974.
He helped launch the Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office and became its assistant director while helping international Catholic media organizations gain a foothold in the region.
From 1975 to 1977, Father Astorino taught journalism at The Chinese University of Hong Kong while actively helping the work of the East Asia Catholic Press Association.
Convinced that the Church of Asia must communicate to the world through Asian journalists, the priest launched the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) in 1979.
To realize his vision of a professional Catholic media organization, Father Astorino, also known as “Father Bob,” devoted his time training young Asian people to become journalists.
“He was a pioneer of his time,” said Chainarong Monthienvichienchai, former chairman of UCAN. “He provided exceptional leadership and inspiration to UCAN during a time of great change,” he said.
Monthienvichienchai said that under the priest’s leadership, those who wrote for UCAN were motivated “not primarily by financial or professional gain, but by a clear sense of mission that was so obviously the focus of [Father Astorino’s] own life.”
“I hope that his passing will be a reminder for those working in media today to be as brave to confront change as he was as we move forward through this unprecedented period in world history,” said the former UCAN official.
Many of those who underwent training workshops under Father Astorino later became leading media professionals not only in the Church in Asia but even in secular media.
“As a skilled trainer, he taught people how to see, listen, and feel everything … and to put them in words properly and effectively,” wrote Rock Ronald Rozario, a journalist from Bangladesh.
“He made a lasting impression on my life …. He was a simple, saintly, and fatherly figure to all who met and came in touch with him,” said the journalist in a tribute to the priest.
Rozario said Father Astorino “encouraged people to be committed to truth and to see the extraordinary in ordinary things.”
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” Rozario recalled the priest saying.
“I remember how he trained us to love and to see good things in non-Christians, especially Muslims,” added the journalist. “Father Bob was a gift for the Church in Asia and the world,” he added.
The priest was a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. In 1998, he received the “Bishop John England Award” from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada for his contribution to the defense of the right to practice religion in the region.