Parishioners, mostly indigenous people, have to attend Mass inside the flooded St. Stephen Church whenever there is heavy rain since a typhoon damaged its roof. (Photo courtesy of St. Stephen Church)
The only indigenous bishop in Taiwan and his parishioners are trying to repair a damaged roof on their church on outskirts of Taitung city before a predicted super typhoon hits around Oct. 20.
St. Stephen Church, where Auxiliary Bishop John Baptist Tseng King-ji of Taitung is the parish pastor, was flooded during Super Typhoon Nepartak in July and further damaged by Typhoon Megi in late September when its metal roof was blown off.
Since then the prelate and his parishioners have faced some watery challenges.
"When I was offering Holy Communion during Sunday Mass weeks ago, there was a sudden downpour. The church venue was flooded up to the ankles and the parishioners' feet got all wet. But everyone continued to stand and pray fervently as the liturgy went on," Bishop Tseng said.
Since then, if it rains on a Sunday, parishioners call the church an hour before Mass to see what they should wear, he said.
In the face of Typhoon Haima, "our parishioners have quickened their speed to rebuild the church roof and prepared sand bags to block flood waters," the bishop said.
St. Stephen Church was flooded with up to 40 cm of rain water after Typhoon Megi hit Taiwan in late September. (Photo courtesy of St. Stephen Church)
Typhoon Nepartak claimed two lives and injured 303 people in Taitung county. Typhoon Megi caused four deaths and injured 527 people across Taiwan and left more than 3.64 million households without electricity.
St. Stephen Church, known as the "Nanwang Church" (after an area inhabited by the Puyuma tribe), was built near paddy fields at the outskirts of Taitung city.
If they can afford it, locals build houses on high platforms to avoid floods but the church stands on the lowest-lying land in the vicinity and is inundated whenever torrential rain falls.
"Our parishioners hope to build a platform for the church but we don't have the budget. We can only raise money penny by penny so that this home of God can be a shelter to all in times of rain and storm," said Bishop Tseng.
Taiwan has 14 tribes each with their own languages and traditions. About one-third of the 270,000 Catholics in Taiwan are indigenous people.