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Religious Congregation Holds Its Largest Priesthood Ordination

Updated: January 05, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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A Religious congregation in Taiwan has ordained a record 18 priests, all ethnic Vietnamese.

The rare large-scale ordination ceremony was held Dec. 27 at the hall of Church-run Viator High School in Taichung. The world headquarters of the Congregation of St. John the Baptist is located in the city 130 kilometers southwest of Taipei. The congregation began 75 years ago as a Chinese mission group but has since opened its doors to other nationalities and now has communities in Taiwan, the United States and Vietnam.

Its superior general, Father Stanislaus Su Ta-i, told UCA News Dec. 29 that the joint ordination is believed to be the biggest ever in Taiwan. The largest he could recall was the ordination of 16 Jesuit priests about 20 years ago.

"We did not intend to set a record," he said, explaining that the congregation wanted to celebrate the ordinations coinciding with its 75th anniversary and draw attention to vocations in the Church.

Fatehr Su said some of the new priests, three of whom are Vietnamese Americans, would be sent to Taipei, Taichung and Tainan dioceses for internship, while others would continue to learn Chinese language at Church-run Providence University in Taichung.

Although there is a sizable Vietnamese community in Taiwan, the new priests would not immediately provide pastoral service to this community because they lack the necessary skills, the superior general added.

The ordination ceremony, at which Bishop Joseph Wang Yu-jung of Taichung presided, was the climax of a yearlong celebration of the St. John the Baptist congregation´s 75th anniversary.

Bishop Wang told UCA News on Dec. 22 that although the new priests were not ordained to work in Taichung, "the ordination would promote religious vocations, encouraging young people to follow suit."

Two other bishops from Taiwan -- Bishop Joseph Cheng Tsai-fa of Tainan and his predecessor, retired Bishop Paul Cheng Shih-kuang -- and Bishops Paul Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang and Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon of Da Lat from Vietnam concelebrated the ordination Mass. Bishop Hoa is president of the Catholic bishops´ conference in Vietnam.

Also attending the ceremony were Monsignor Ambrose Madtha, charge d´affaires at the Apostolic Nunciature in Taipei, more than 100 priests from Taiwan, about seven priests from Vietnam and some 1,000 laypeople. These included more than 60 relatives of the new priests and other lay Catholics from Vietnam.

The Congregation of St. John the Baptist, formerly called the Little Brothers of St. John the Baptist, was founded by Father Vincent Lebbe (1877-1940), a Belgian Vincentian missioner who was ordained in Beijing in 1902, a year after he arrived in China.

According to the congregation´s website, Father Lebbe advocated for the ordination of native bishops to help the Catholic faith to take root in China. It says he "was exiled from China" because of this but that his urging was a factor that led Pope Pius XI in 1926 to ordain the first six Chinese bishops.

Father Lebbe returned to China after this and in 1928 founded the Little Brothers of St. John the Baptist for men and the Little Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus for women. He left the Vincentians in 1933 and became head of the men´s congregation he founded.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945), Father Lebbe led his Religious and lay Catholics in rescuing wounded Chinese soldiers. He, 18 Little Brothers and two Little Sisters died in this work. After communist forces took control of mainland China in 1949, members of his congregation fled to Hong Kong, and the group re-established itself in Taiwan in 1954.

It later ran two schools in South Vietnam until Vietnam was reunified under communist rule in 1975.

The congregation´s main goal is to evangelize Chinese people in China and overseas through pastoral, educational and social work. Members serve in parishes, run mission centers and operate schools.

In recent decades, as vocations among Chinese dwindled, it began accepting members from outside the Chinese community who have a vocation to serve it.

Father Su insists that the mission has not changed, while admitting some confreres have worried that the congregation would part from its Chinese mission. He explained that the Vietnamese are culturally close to the Chinese, and some Vietnamese have Chinese ancestral roots. He also said the Church in Vietnam hopes the congregation can do pastoral work in parishes having a sizable ethnic Chinese Catholic community.

END

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