Archbishop John Hung (right) with papal envoy Monsignor Paul Russell and two Taiwanese vice-ministers.
Taiwan and the Holy See celebrated 70 years of relations on Saturday at a low-key ceremony in Taipei designed not to antagonize mainland China. In an address at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the Taipei-based papal representative Monsignor Paul Russell told the 30 gathered priests, 300 faithful and just two senior government officials that relations between the Republic of China (ROC) and the Vatican had often been difficult. These challenges were “not inherent in the fundamental nature of either the ROC or of the Holy See, but rather are derived from external forces,” he said in a thinly veiled reference to mainland China. The Holy See is the only entity in Europe to maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei, a relationship disliked by the Communist Party in Beijing. China has tried to isolate Taiwan on the international stage as it attempts to bring the island back under direct control following separation in 1949 when Mao Zedong’s Communists took power. Seven years earlier, the Vatican had established formal ties with the ROC, as the mainland and Taiwan were collectively known at the time. Relations with the Holy See continued when the ROC government fled to Taiwan when the communists took power on the mainland. Meanwhile, China banished all forms of religion until the late 1970s. Vanessa Shih, Taiwan’s vice-minister of foreign affairs, said amid global political and economic turmoil over the past 70 years, “the relationship between the ROC and the Holy See has remained firm, based on our shared commitment to world peace and the wellbeing of humankind.” The Vatican had made a significant contribution to education, medical care and social welfare in Taiwan, she added. Lin Tzuling, vice-minister of the interior, was the only other senior government official at the two-hour Mass led by Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, president of the Taiwan bishops’ conference. Related reports President’s Vatican visit ‘unlikely’ Vatican renews focus on Taiwan