President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday he is “looking forward” to his first visit to the Vatican as president to attend Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass.
“The Vatican is Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe and this visit has been named ‘Ching Yi (慶誼),’ meaning the celebration of the two countries’ solid diplomatic ties over the past 71 years,” Ma said on his Facebook page.
Ma said he is looking forward to the visit, during which he will congratulate Pope Francis in person on his election to the papacy and convey the Taiwanese people’s heartfelt gratitude and best wishes to the Holy See.
Ma said he visited the Vatican in a whirlwind trip in 1997 and went back again in 1999 in his capacity as Taipei mayor. Ma said he is from a Catholic family and that as a child, he frequently went to the Catholic church in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華) with his grandmother.
When he was in college, he learned French and English from a Catholic priest and nun, he said.
Larry Wang (王豫元), the nation’s ambassador to the Vatican, said Ma is the first Republic of China (ROC) president invited to attend a papal investiture. The invitation reflects the close relations between Taiwan and the Vatican, and their shared values such as mercy, humanitarianism and peace, Wang said.
He said Taiwan and the Vatican have worked together on many humanitarian missions and that when Taiwan needed help, such as during the devastating earthquake in 1999 and the Typhoon Morakot disaster in 2009, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI respectively expressed concern and conveyed condolences to those affected.
Pope Benedict XVI also donated US$50,000 to Taiwan in the wake of the Morakot disaster, Wang said.
The Vatican is Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in Europe. The two countries have maintained diplomatic ties since 1942, with religious, academic and cultural exchanges and mutual recognition of each other’s university and college degrees.
When Benedict XVI’s predecessor, pope John Paul II, died in April 2005, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) made a rare visit to the Vatican to attend the funeral.
Former first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) also made a visit to the Vatican in July 2003 to attend Pope John Paul II’s 25th anniversary as the leader of the Catholic Church.