Sat, Nov 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan sacred ground for Catholics

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

Much global media attention has been given to the latest high-level talks between the Vatican and China. In a New York Times op-ed on Oct. 24, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun (陳日君) of Hong Kong expressed concern about the Vatican’s hasty move toward diplomatic rapprochement with Beijing.

It has been speculated that the Holy See is embracing China’s “one church, two systems” model, in which China prescreens local Catholic bishop candidates and the Vatican seconds Beijing’s selections.

If implemented, this arrangement conforms with the selection of chief executives in postcolonial Hong Kong and Macau, where political leaders are chosen primarily for their political allegiance to Beijing.

How does this development affect Taiwan? Because the Vatican is the only European state that recognizes the Republic of China on Taiwan as a legitimate government, bilateral ties with the Holy See are perceived by Taiwanese authorities as being of prime importance to the nation’s diplomacy.

This is best shown by the election of Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), a devout Catholic, as the nation’s vice president. He recently visited the Holy See, informing senior Vatican diplomats of public concern over the church’s deepening ties with Beijing.

Geopolitics has always influenced the Catholic Church in Taiwan.

Beatrice Leung (梁潔芬) in The Catholic Church in Taiwan: Birth, Growth and Development, published this year, highlights the interplay between global politics and local churches in Taiwan.

In the early 18th century, Spanish Catholic missionaries first came to Taiwan and built extensive church networks throughout East Asia, stretching from Taiwan to China’s Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, Japan and the Philippines.

As a result of the intense maritime rivalry between Spain and the Netherlands, the Spanish overseas outposts in Taiwan were eventually taken over by Dutch Protestants and the Catholic missionaries were expelled.

It was not until the mid-19th century that European Catholic missionaries returned to the island, building parishes, founding schools and doing charity work. The exodus of Chinese clergy from China after 1949 further expanded the network of Catholic institutions and churchgoers, consolidating the foundation of the Taiwanese church.

Today, Taiwan is the only Chinese cultural sphere to host three officially recognized Catholic universities: Fu Jen University, Providence University and Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages.

Throughout the Cold War, Taiwan provided a vital channel for the Vatican to gather information about and offer practical support to the heavily persecuted churches in China. When Maoism garnered attention among left-wing intellectuals and students in the West, the Taiwanese church launched the Bridging Endeavor project to provide a more objective assessment of the Maoist state.

Beyond the ideological sphere, the Catholic Church in Taiwan has enrooted itself in the island’s diverse and colorful religious landscape. For example, the Focolare Movement gave ordinary church members numerous opportunities to experience living in a monastic community, pursue pastoral ministry, and dialogue with Buddhists and Taoists about moral, sociocultural and environmental issues.

Another example is the famous Wanchin Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Wanjin Village (萬金), outside Kaohsiung. As more pilgrims visit the sacred site every year at Christmas, effective collaborations with Pingtung County authorities have helped local Catholics to enmesh their faith and practices with a modernizing society.

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