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Retiring Belgian nun says goodbye to Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A Belgian nun who has been devoted to helping people in Taiwan for over 50 years said goodbye Friday as she prepared to retire and leave the island that she described as “home.”

“Belgium is my birthplace, but Taiwan is my home,” said Hilda Van Hoolst, a smiling Catholic nun of the Immaculate Heart of Mary missionary who came to Taiwan in 1961 and has worked to help the poor, the sick and the needy.

Due to health problems, Sister Hoolst, 79, will retire and return to Belgium May 6.

The Taipei-based Taiwan Catholic Foundation of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia, where Hoolst now serves, held a farewell party for her on Friday.

National Immigration Agency head Hsieh Li-kung and his deputy were among the government officials who attended the party.

President Ma Ying-jeou and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin were not there but sent messages of thanks for Hoolst's contribution.

“I'm reluctant to leave, but I really don't want to bother anyone to take care of me,” the nun said, adding that she will retire to a monastery in her homeland for the rest of her life.

“After such a long time, I have the impression that people here like us very much,” she said in Mandarin, which she picked up over the years.

“We came here not because of money, but because of love. We've devoted our lives and given our hearts to the people here,” she told CNA with tears in her eyes.

During her 52 years of service in Taiwan, Hoolst helped to take care of premature babies and assisted at a hospital, according to the foundation. Since 2001, she has been devoted to caring for patients with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

“Time flies, but all I can remember is the joy and happiness I have had here,” she said.

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Belgian nun Hilda Van Hoolst cuts into her farewell cake with National Immigration Agency head Hsieh Li-kung (謝立功), right, and deputy He Jong-tsun (何榮村) at her farewell party, yesterday. Eighty-year-old Hoolst served as a nun in Taiwan for 52 years out of charity and love for premature infants and Alzheimer-effected elderly.(CNA)

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