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April 22 2002

A foreign missioner in Taiwan bears witness to Christ´s love through foot reflexology, a unique ministry in which he says he tries to bring to life the image of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles.

Father Josef Eugster of the Bethlehem Mission Society, who is known in Taiwan as the "father of foot reflexology," told UCA News in late February that it is for love and service of people that he practices reflexology.

Foot reflexology is a natural therapy based on the theory that the soles of the feet contains reflexive areas that are connected with different body organs, and that massaging them will help improve health or cure illnesses.

The therapy is believed to have been developed in China as early as 4,000 years ago, and then spread to other countries during the succeeding dynasties of the early centuries.

However, times and changes hindered its continuity, and it became almost an unknown therapeutic practice among the Chinese before Father Eugster helped revive the practice.

"Through hand and feet contact during the 20-minute treatment, people become open. They tell me their problems and I share with them my faith, following the way of Jesus to heal first and then to preach (later)," said Father Eugster, whose Chinese name is Wu Ruo-shi.

The priest said he is aware that most Chinese are embarrassed to expose their feet, and are reluctant to have their feet touched. So he makes them feel comfortable by washing their feet before the treatment.

He said he sees the image of Jesus washing his disciples´ feet in his mind while he does the therapy. This "imitation of Christ" gives him the vitality to serve the people through his unusual ministry, he said.

The Swiss missioner left his home country for Taiwan in 1970. After some Chinese language studies, he was sent to the rural and mountainous areas of Taitung county in Hualien diocese, eastern Taiwan, where he started his mission work.

"It was very hard for me to evangelize here. I invited people to church but no one showed up," he said, recalling the frustration of pastoral work in his early days in Taitung. "I prayed earnestly to God for help. Later, foot reflexology was God´s answer to my prayers," he said.

He first learned about foot reflexology in 1978, after suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which did not respond to any medical treatment.

"My confrere Brother Laurenz Schelbert in Taiwan applied compression massage on my feet to help relieve pain. A few days later, the pain was gone," he said, noting that it was a "miracle" that drew his interest to foot massage.

Afterward, he returned to Switzerland to study foot reflexology and came back to Taiwan with an official certificate as a qualified therapist.

As he grew closer to people with foot reflexology, he then trained six laypersons to use the skill at the Queen of the Apostles Church in Taitung. "We first rendered service to our neighbors and acquaintances," he recalled.

News of such treatment healing various ailments in a natural way quickly spread. More and more people visited him for treatment.

Yet he faced hurdles. In the early 1980s, unexpected opposition came from Church leaders who disagreed with his way of carrying out the mission. He also recalled that pharmaceutical companies challenged him, and even distorted his views regarding the use of medicine.

"I really did not know what to do with those reproaches. But inspired by the mystery of Jesus curing people, I kept on doing foot reflexology treatment," Father Eugster said.

Within two decades, foot reflexology became accepted in Taiwan, and was also welcomed and highly valued in other parts of the world.

"Many people throughout the world benefit from this treatment," Father Eugster said. "But I am especially happy to know that it is also being adopted by Catholic priests and sisters for their apostolate in mainland China."

"If I were not a foreigner and a Catholic priest, foot reflexology might not have been easily accepted by the people in Taiwan," he said.