Sizing Up the Church in China and Taiwan

Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-shi Views the Landscape

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 22, 2002 ( Following the annual congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which raised hopes for the future of China, the missionary agency Fides spoke with Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-shi, bishop of Kaoshiung, in Taiwan.

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi was born in mainland China, in 1923. He was ordained a priest in the Philippines in March 1955 and appointed bishop of Hwalien in 1980. In 1991 he was appointed bishop of Kaoshiung. He has carried out a number of key tasks for the Holy See and for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

Q: Your Eminence, do you think that after the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party there will be any changes? What changes would you like to see?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi: Mainland China’s policy of opening has brought progress. Many Taiwan businesses have opened branches in mainland China, particularly since China joined the World Trade Organization.

We see that every new generation of Communist political leaders is more open and gives more freedom. We hope that the fourth generation will commit itself even more to religious freedom and an open policy.

The new leaders must realize that the Church has never had political, economic or military ambitions. Our goal is the common good, the good of the people of China. We wish only to help the country progress and grow.

In the past we worked with mainland China in education, health care and charity work, the work that the Catholic Church carries out everywhere, not only in China. This is why I would say to the new leaders that they need not fear the Church. All we ask for is freedom of belief and freedom to practice our religion.

Q: Tell us about the Church in Taiwan. What are the main problems?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi: The Church in Taiwan is small, although it has 143 years of history. Because of scarcity of personnel and communication, at the end of the 1940s there were fewer than 10,000 Catholics in Taiwan.

In the 1950s and 1960s the Church developed and that was our golden age. There were over 1,000 priests and many churches and health care institutions were built. The Church was able to work in the fields of education, health care, mission, and pastoral care. In recent years, with technological progress, Taiwan society became more industrialized, urbanized and consumerist. People think only of material things, neglecting the spiritual side of life, and the Church also felt this tendency.

For example, the clergy is elderly and the overall number has decreased. Today we have over 600 priests, but 400 are elderly; only a little more than 100 are under 60 years old. We have about 50 seminarians. A lack of vocations is one of our problems. Fortunately, our Catholic laity are deeply committed; at present they are 300,000. They take an active part in the Church. We give special attention to their formation.

Q: In this context what are the concrete pastoral plans of the Church in Taiwan?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi: In 1988 we held a congress of evangelization to plan pastoral activity in the last years of the 20th century. In 2001, we held a congress of the new century and new evangelization, during which we drafted a pastoral plan for the new millennium, underlining the role of the laity in the life of the Church.

This year we have focused on the family, to help it be a center which irradiates faith, hope and charity. We asked the faithful to decorate a corner of their home with religious symbols and to create a religious atmosphere in the family.

We also asked families to promote prayer, Bible reading and sharing, and to evangelize among their friends and neighbors. We suggested that each Catholic family should meet a non-Christian family and share the faith: adults with adults, children with children. We must use every opportunity to share the Good News as soon as possible.

Our bishops’ conference is aware of the importance of the family. As the Pope has told us many times, the family is an important subject and object of evangelization. We have decided to follow this line for the future keeping the family as the main object of evangelization, renewed according to the new demands of the social context.

We also give maximum attention to interreligious dialogue. We have behind us more than 60 years of interreligious dialogue, which has developed. We have carried out mission among the local people.

So far, the Church in Taiwan has had a local bishop, and local priests, nuns and seminarians. We have a local congregation of nuns, the Sisters of Saint Martha. One of the sisters is from Han, the others are all from Taiwan.

Q: You are a member of the postsynodal committee which appraises the implementation in Asian countries of the guidelines issued by the special Synod for Asia. To what extent has the Church in Taiwan achieved this goal?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi: The main task of the committee is to appraise the implementation in Asian countries of the guidelines issued by the special Synod for Asia. The synod was held in 1998 and the Pope promulgated “Ecclesia in Asia” personally in India on Nov. 6, 1999.

The Church in Taiwan immediately translated the document into Chinese and distributed it to Hong Kong, mainland China and oversees Chinese communities. We can say that the Church in Taiwan is following closely the guidelines issued by the synod.

Q: What about cooperation between missionaries and local clergy? Would you say that the Church in Taiwan, once a receiving Church, is now a sending Church?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-shi: The missionary congregations working in Taiwan are also having difficulty with vocations, and scarcity of personnel. Their work of evangelization has always been very important for the local community.

With regard to mission, the local Church, for its part, despite the scarcity of vocations, feels a deep need to be missionary. Mission “ad gentes” is a duty of every local Church and it is also a sign of the vitality of a particular Church. If a Church loses its spirit of mission “ad gentes,” it loses its vitality.

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