Fri, May 27, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Envoy to the Vatican reveals secret weapon

FAMOUS FIGURE Tou Chou-seng, Taiwan's ambassador to the Holy See, said his Muslim chef is playing a vital role in promoting interactions between officials

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican Tou Chou-seng (杜筑生) revealed yesterday that his African chef -- a devout Muslim -- is his "secret weapon" in doing diplomatic work in the Holy See.

The chef started working for Tou when he was the ambassador to Senegal.

"In the beginning, he did not quite understand the format of diplomatic banquets. He cut meat into big chunks and served all courses within a short period," Tou said.

Tou, who is in Taipei to present a report on Taiwan-Vatican ties in the legislature, yesterday shared some anecdotes of his experiences in the Holy See with reporters.

The ambassador said his wife was dedicated in training the chef, who learnt how to make various Chinese delicacies.

"The delicious food my chef makes has indeed played a vital role in promoting interaction between Taiwanese and Vatican officials," Tou said.

"Vatican officials and clerics, including many cardinals, have showered praise on my chef's excellent cooking skills. He is a famous figure in the Vatican indeed," the ambassador said.

Tou also told how he taught President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to follow Catholic rituals at Pope John Paul's funeral mass. The Vatican invited Chen to attend the late pontiff's funeral last month, and he became the first ever Taiwanese president to set foot in Europe while in office.

"I told the president he only needed to follow what other people do during the mass. But I told him that, because he is not a Catholic, he should not kneel down when other people do so," the ambassador said.

"I think the president went through the mass rituals properly," he added.

Tou also introduced Chen to many Vatican officials and heads of state after the mass.

The ambassador said he told the president's delegation that it might not be possible for them to leave their seats to go to the toilet during the four-hour mass.

"After my briefing, no member of the president's delegation dared drink any juice or coffee," he said.

He added that the president's bodyguards were very concerned about his safety during the mass, because they felt they were not close enough to Chen to adequately protect him.

Tou, who was appointed ambassador to the Vatican last year, said Pope John Paul was already ill when he arrived at the Holy See.

The ambassador then started visiting potential successors to John Paul. One of the cardinals he visited was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.

"Cardinal Ratzinger told me at that time that he hoped the people of Taiwan could help people in China gain freedom," Tou said.

The ambassador, who said he is a faithful follower of Confucius' teachings, does not feel inclined to convert to Catholicism.

"So far it seems that I haven't been touched by Catholicism," he said.

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