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Taiwan Catholics 'need more clarity'

Lecture enlightens islanders about mainland situation

Father Willy Ollevier was one of the speakers in the lecture Father Willy Ollevier was one of the speakers in the lecture
  • Francis Kuo, Taipei
  • Taiwan
  • July 21, 2011
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A lecture entitled “Knowing The Mainland Church,” at the Kuting Sacred Heart Church in Taipei, gave Taiwan Catholics the chance to hear what it is like to serve as a Church worker in mainland China and find out more about the problems they face.

“The aim of the lecture was to raise Taiwan Catholics’ awareness of the Church there,” said one of the organizers, Jesuit Father Ignatius Hung Wan-liu.

“Local Catholics in general don’t have a deep understanding of aspects such as the ‘underground’ and ‘open’ Church communities. Their knowledge is mostly based on what they get from Church-run and secular media,” he said.

Father Ignatius pointed out a number of common misunderstandings surrounding the Church in China. For example, most Taiwanese Catholics think that if a mainland priest has government recognition, he automatically belongs to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. This is not so.

Given the complexities of the Church there, it is clear that there is potential for many more misconceptions. Yet it has rarely been as important to clarify them as it is now, with Beijing and the Vatican at an impasse over episcopal ordinations without papal mandate.

The government-sanctioned ‘open’ Church consecrated two illicit bishops this month. In return, the Vatican declared latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication on both of them, in the first excommunications since China began to elect and ordain bishops on its own in 1958.

The need for clarification is also critical now as Taiwan's universities are no longer off-limits to people from the mainland. This year for the first time, thousands of mainland students have enrolled and will soon be arriving to study. Their numbers will undoubtedly include Catholic priests, nuns and seminarians from both the ‘open’ and ‘underground’ communities.

This has led to calls for the Church authorities to make positive plans to help avoid a scenario where Taiwan Catholics come into contact with illicit clergy and mistake them for Vatican-recognized Church people.

As one priest here has pointed out, “religious congregations and missionary societies will take care of their confreres when they arrive in Taiwan, but there is no specialized committee in the Church to take care of mainland diocesan priests, seminarians or nuns who study here.”

Sister Mary, who spoke at the lecture, is a case in point. She is from northern China and is in Taiwan to study. She told the audience that the mainland Church’s biggest problem today is not the Catholic Patriotic Association but the general standards of formation, which she thinks need to be enhanced for both clergy and parishioners.

Father Willy Ollevier of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation also addressed the audience, talking about his evangelization experiences in China which started 30 years ago. “The Chinese government restricts the activities of visiting Catholic clergy,” he said, “but I think the Taiwan Church still can help greatly with evangelization and pastoral formation, through cultural and educational exchanges.”

Related reports:

Mainland students favor Catholic study

Christianity in China ‘growing fast’

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