Following an amendment to the Nationality Act (國籍法) at the end of last year, foreign professionals can now apply for Republic of China (ROC) citizenship without having to renounce their original citizenship. The change is encouraging news.
On Jan. 26, Father Brendan O’Connell, a Catholic priest also known as Kan Hui-chung (甘惠忠), who has dedicated his life to helping Taiwanese children with special needs and founded the Bethlehem Foundation, was the first foreign national to receive a national identification card from Premier Lin Chuan (林全) at a special ceremony.
Think about this for a moment: O’Connell, a US citizen who has selflessly dedicated 54 years of his life to serving Taiwan, waited more than five decades for this moment.
At the end of last month, Father Yves Moal, a French priest also known as Liu Yi-feng (劉一峰), who has dedicated 52 years to helping mentally handicapped children in Taitung and Hualien counties, finally obtained citizenship.
Another priest, Father George Martinson, also known as Ting Sung-ching (丁松青), who has for the past 42 years tirelessly served Atayal Aborigines in the remote village of Chingchuan in Hsinchu County, also received citizenship in January.
The background to each of these Catholic priests finally obtaining citizenship is almost identical. With neither kith nor kin in Taiwan, they have toiled away for decades without complaint or regret, and have certainly endured much hardship. They ask not for reward, but instead ask only what they can give.
Far from coming to Taiwan for a short spell of three or five years, they have lived here for decades. When one considers that pensions are usually paid to civil servants after 30 to 35 years of work, this puts their service to the nation in perspective.
These foreign-born clergymen have primarily dedicated their service to disadvantaged groups residing in remote areas. Their work often goes unnoticed by the media and the public, yet it is their main vocation in life — their entire life’s work.
They go about their work quietly, in a low-key manner and have never felt the need to loudly profess their love for Taiwan; yet all Taiwanese with whom they have come into contact feel the warmth of their love.
Foreign clergy are not net contributors to the nation’s coffers, since the donations that they receive from worshipers are immediately distributed to those in need. They have no fixed income and therefore no means to pay tax. Nevertheless, no one would deny the immeasurable contributions they have made to Taiwan.
They have contributed decades of service in some of the remotest corners of the nation to enhance the beauty of Taiwan and are indispensable to the lives of so many.
It would be nice if government officials could find it in themselves to apologize to these indefatigable men of the cloth for the delay in granting them citizenship.
It is truly Taiwan’s honor to welcome you into our family. Thank you.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired National Hsinchu University of Education associate professor and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Edward Jones
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