ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongPublished: June 03, 2016 10:26 AM GMT
Pilgrims visiting the Chinese Martyrs Sanctuary in Taiwan during the Year of Mercy prepare to pass through the site's Holy Door. (Photo: Chinese Martyrs Sanctuary Facebook)
A pilgrimage site in Taipei Archdiocese is proving very popular among Catholics during the Year of Mercy, so far receiving more than 70 pilgrimage tours from both home and abroad, including many from mainland China.
The Chinese Martyrs Sanctuary is one of five designated pilgrimage sites in the archdiocese with a Holy Door.
Holy Doors have been designated at various pilgrimage sites around the world during this Year of Mercy.
Catholics have the opportunity during this special year to obtain a plenary indulgence by passing through one of these doors while on pilgrimage.
Our sanctuary is not only a designated site for the Year of Mercy but I am also a Missionary of Mercy. That's why Catholics particularly like to come here," parish priest Father Willy Ollevier told ucanews.com.
Priests were give a chance to enroll themselves as missionaries of mercy in response to Pope Francis' plans for the holy year, which began Dec. 8, during which he would grant select priests the rights "to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See."
"Most pilgrims are coming from other parts of Taiwan, while the next largest group are from mainland China. They want to walk through the Holy Doors and seek me out for confession," said the priest from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Those from the mainland visit as there are no missionaries of mercy in China. His sanctuary also houses relics of Chinese martyr-saints, said the Belgium-born priest who speaks fluent Mandarin.
Besides receiving pilgrims, Father Ollevier said he also visits other parishes to conduct talks or retreats under the theme of mercy.
"This is a particularly busy year. But that's fine by me as I think the most important thing is to help Catholics in their spiritual growth," he said.
To deal with the influx of pilgrims, the parish has mobilized its evangelization team to receive the tours.
"We have received about 70 groups with more than 1,000 pilgrims from Canada, mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and other parishes in Taiwan since the jubilee year began," Lin Hsiu-ying, leader of the evangelization team, told ucanews.com.
"We tell the pilgrims about the martyrs, before they attend a Mass and pass through the Holy Doors. If Father Ollevier is here, they queue up for confession in the hope of getting a plenary indulgence," said Lin.
"It was the deeds of the martyrs and their blood that was spilt that sparked the church here and on the mainland to develop so fast," said Huang Guang-hui, chair of the parish laity council.
Commemorating martyr-saints has been taboo in China since 120 martyrs were canonized on Oct. 1, 2000 which coincided with Communist China's national day and soured ties between the Holy See and Beijing.
"This means coming here to Taiwan gives Chinese pilgrims the chance to pray for the saints' intercession," he said.
According to Father Otfried Chen, secretary-general of Taiwan bishops' conference, there are 17 missionaries of mercy in seven Taiwan dioceses.
During this special year, the missionaries of mercy have been designated as retreat masters. Each diocese has invited missionaries outside their own diocese to their retreats so that laypeople can receive a variety of messages, about acts of mercy, he said.
Each diocese is trying to make as many Catholics aware that these missionaries are here so they can seek them out, Father Chen said.
The focus of this special year is not so much the Missionaries of Mercy but rather on the "loss of a sense of guilt among many people."
"The church cannot force people to confess. Catholics must feel an urge to do so. That's why the missionaries' other mission is to proclaim the message of mercy," he said.
Being a Lenten retreat director in April, Father Chen observed that more Catholics did come for retreats and confession than usual.
"I think there were at least twice as many than in past years," he said.
"Some laypeople may be feeling uneasy about confessing to their parish priest so are grasping the opportunity to confess to a visiting one," he said.