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Elderly missioners still await benefits

Wheels of government are turning slowly to fulfill presidential promise of honorary citizenship

President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan (left) shakes hand with Father Josef Eugster President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan (left) shakes hand with Father Josef Eugster
  • Francis Kuo, Taipei
  • Taiwan
  • April 19, 2011
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A pledge made by President Ma Ying-jeou more than a month ago to grant elderly foreign missioners honorary citizenship and identity cards has yet to be realized.

Honorary status would allow missioners who have served most of their lifetime in Taiwan to enjoy free bus transportation and half-price discounts on air fares.

“We will wait patiently as this takes time,” said Father Josef Eugster, aged 71.

The Bethlehem Mission Society priest who serves at the Holy Family Church in Taitung came to Taiwan 41 years ago.

The pledge stems from a meeting President Ma had with Fr. Eugster and other elderly Religious at St. Mary’s Hospital in Taitung on March 12.

When Ma asked the missioners, who came to Taiwan while in their 20s and 30s, if they enjoyed half-price bus fares, Fr. Eugster told him, “No, we need ID cards and we don’t have any ID cards.”

The president said he hoped the Legislative Yuan and Interior Ministry could amend the law and give them honorary citizenship and an ID card as a way for Taiwan to express its gratitude to them.

He assured them that honorary citizenship would not be a privilege to make them different from others but a welfare policy open to all Taiwan citizens who are over 65.

According to the interior ministry the delay is because various departments within the ministry are still discussing the issue.

In Taiwan there are 357 priests, 60 religious brothers and 278 nuns who are foreign, many of whom are advancing in years.

Like many other countries, the local Church now has to contend with an ageing population.

END

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