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Sat, Jul 08, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Chen makes appeal to Matsu followers

RELIGIOUS LINKS Emphasizing the need to keep religion out of politics, the president called on followers of Matsu to not use a religious decree to dictate policy

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday appealed to followers of the goddess Matsu, to refrain from using a "decree from a goddess" to mislead public opinion and force the government's hand.

"As ordinary people, we are not able to find out what the goddess really thinks about (these things)," President Chen said yesterday during a visit to Chaotien Temple (朝天宮) in Yunlin County.

"Cross-strait religious exchange has been going on for years, therefore there is no need to influence public opinion in the name of a god's [or goddess'] will."

During his visit to Yunlin yesterday, Chen said he wanted to learn from Matsu's spirit to take care of all people without any preconditions.

"The religious belief of Matsu originated in China, yet the goddess cherishes all people and land in Taiwan," President Chen said.

Chen said that even though Matsu is omniscient, she still need-ed two guards -- the farsighted person (千里眼) and a well-informed person (順風耳) -- to help her collect information and make correct decisions.

"Like Matsu, the government has to carefully mark out the regulation of direct religious links. Otherwise, it will bring more problems if we execute this policy hastily."

Chaotien Temple and Chenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮), another famous temple in Taiwan for worshipping Matsu, both recently planned to arrange a pilgrimage to China. Chenlan Temple's board chairman Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) had urged the new government to allow Matsu's followers to sail directly to China's Fujian Province on July 16.

Yen said publicly that Matsu had decided the date of the pilgrimage and that over 3,000 followers would participate.

At the time, Yen had said the trip had to be carried out as it was Matsu's will.

However, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) officials repeatedly told lawmakers in the Legislative Yuan that the government would need six months to establish a plan for the links, paying special attention to its national security implications, then draw up all related regulations for opening up a direct religious link.

In the end, Chenlan Temple gave up its plan to make a direct sea voyage to China and later announced it would travel to Fujian Province's Meizhou island, Matsu's birthplace, by air.

Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) had also said: "it is totally inappropriate for religious figures to try to manipulate the government into opening a direct link with China by claiming it is a decree from Matsu."

While President Chen visited Chaotien Temple, officials from the MAC went to Chenlan Temple in Taichung County yesterday morning to explain the government's policy, as well as worship Matsu to bless the pilgrimage.

"We hope followers of Matsu can realize that the government needs time to negotiate with China to discuss those issues of certificates, ship routes and other issues," said Chen Ming-tung (陳明通), vice chairman of the MAC.

"Only when [both sides of Taiwan Strait] sign some clear agreement on paper that will guarantee people's rights and safety will be protected, then the government will put into practice the direct links policy," Chen said.

The Outlying Islands Development Act was passed shortly after the new government was elected, the details of which are still awaiting government approval.

The Act was passed in the hope that opening up direct trade between China and Taiwan's outlying islands would strengthen their already cash-strapped economies.

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