Taiwan diocese joins oldest city in marking 400th anniversary

Year-long evangelical program in Tainan city stresses mission of the Church that began on the island in the 16th century

UCA News reporter

Updated: April 16, 2024 07:55 AM GMT

This picture taken on August 10, 2018 shows a worshipper receiving holy communion during a Catholic mass in the Holy Spirit Church in Yanshui, about an hour's drive from the southern city of Tainan. (Photo: AFP)

As celebrations in Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan, gained momentum to mark the 400th anniversary of its founding by the Dutch, local Catholics joined festivities with a year-long program.

The city of some 2 million people began the 400 Hakka Fair on April 15, highlighting the local culture, culinary delights, and agricultural products. The fair, which runs until Nov. 30, is part of the city's year-long jubilee celebrations, including arts and cultural festivals.

For its part, Tainan diocese has also begun a year-long evangelical program — Tainan 400, Evangelization 400  — which stresses the mission of the Church that began on the island with the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.

The Evangelization 400 program is the goal of the Tainan Diocese throughout the year, said Franciscan Bishop John Baptist Huang Min-Cheng of Tainan at a Mass on April 6 at the International Hall of the Formosa Hotel in Anping.

The program kicked off with 89 baptisms. Among 151 candidates for the Sacrament of Initiation, 89 were baptized during the April 6 Mass, attended by some 1,000 Catholics including nuns and priests.

The program also includes formation courses for catechists.

More than 30 clergy, including Archbishop Stefano Mazzotti, the Holy See's chargé d'affaires in Taipei, bishops, and priests joined the Mass.

The diocese's year-long Evangelization 400 program is scheduled to conclude in December, marking the opening of a jubilee year for the Catholic Church in 2025.

The Church is like a boat. With the protection of God, everyone works hard to keep the boat moving forward, Bishop Min-Cheng said, addressing the candidates. Evangelization requires everyone's efforts, he said.

A yacht ride was arranged for participants to experience the missionary work in the diocese and Tainan's coastal scenery.

Although the Catholic Church's initial history on the island is linked to the Portuguese mission in Asia, Catholics in the city, like others, see themselves as connected to the city's history and culture.

Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to arrive in Taiwan in 1517, and they called it Beautiful Island (Ilha Formosa) in their language. However, the Portuguese, who had already established their base in India, did not lay claim to the island.

The Dutch landed in Penghu in the Taiwan Strait in 1622, and Chinese authorities pushed them to the unoccupied island. In 1624, they built a fort in the present Tainan area, making it their trading base for the next four decades. Taiwan's first city was born.

Tainan was Taiwan's political and cultural capital during the colonial period and under Qing Dynasty rule until the late 19th century.

Established in 1961, Tainan diocese covers Tainan City, Tainan County, and Penghu County. According to the church directory, the diocese has about 8,300 Catholics in its 47 parishes and stations.

The Church in Taiwan comprises one archdiocese, six dioceses, and one apostolic administration with around 300,000 Catholics.

According to official estimates, about 70 percent of Taiwan's 23.42 million people practice a combination of folk religions, with around 35 percent following Buddhism and 33 percent Taoism.

Christians account for about 6.8 percent of the total population, of which around 1.3 percent are Catholics.

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