A Catholic church with Confucius and the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin)? When you walk into the main part of the Hualien Catholic Museum off Hualien City’s Chungmei Rd, the first thing that catches your eye is two large portraits of what look to be Confucius and Guanyin. Early in this former church’s history, apparently for missionary work, the appearance and clothing of Jesus’ parents — St Joseph and St Mary — were altered to bring them closer in line with Taiwanese culture.
The museum — previously the Catholic Diocese of Meilun — first opened as a Catholic church in October 1958. At the time it was the tallest building in Hualien City’s Meilun area, which had not yet been developed and was still quite desolate.
More than half a century later, the Catholic Church Hualien Diocese now has a new church. The church bishop Philip Huang began renovating the old church in 2010 to turn it into a museum and also applied for it to be designated a local cultural museum.
When you walk into the cathedral you immediately see what appear to be portraits of Confucius and Guanyin on two side walls, causing confusion for many tourists about whether this is indeed a Catholic cathedral. The museum says that visitors often mistake the two portraits for Confucius and Guanyin. However, the alterations were actually made by Catholic missionaries to conform to local culture, the museum says, adding that on one side the portrait that looks like Confucius is actually Christ’s father St Joseph, while the other portrait resembling Guanyin is Christ’s mother St Mary. Hopefully locals will feel a sense of familiarity when they see these pictures, which helps make Western religions more accessible, the museum says.
The collection at the museum is actually quite extensive, preserving missionary materials used by clergy members in the early days of the Hualien diocese, including clothes, the church’s Aboriginal-style decorations and carvings, and a number of photographs. All of the artifacts originally belonged to the priests who first came to these remote parts and serve as useful source materials for researching how Hualien has changed over the years.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)