Considered a mission territory for its tiny catholic presence – only one and a half percent of the population – Taiwan has been home to the Comboni Missionaries since 1997. An international community of four missionaries serves the spiritual needs of the few, yet devout faithful, in two parishes on the outskirts of the capital. A Filipino Comboni young missionary shares his experience.
The Comboni missionaries first arrived in Asia, in the Philippines, in 1988 for mission animation and vocation promotion work. Later on, they extended their presence to other Asian territories, like Taiwan and Macau, having in mind the evangelisation of non-Christians. Recently, we have opened a community in Vietnam to promote vocations among its youth.
In 1997, a Comboni missionary was sent to study Mandarin and explore the possibilities of missionary activity in Taiwan. With significant presence in the island country, the missionary established a more stable community. Later, the Archbishop of Taipei entrusted to the Comboni missionaries the care of St. John Neumann Parish in Renai District at the heart of the capital. Afterwards, the missionary community moved to the outskirts of the capital, in Wugu District, New Taipei City, to take charge of St. Anne’s Parish that had been without a resident priest for many years. The parish community is composed of a mixture of aborigines and Taiwanese of Chinese descent. Three years ago, the community accepted the request of the Archbishop of Taipei to assume another pastoral commitment at St. William Parish in Huilong District. At present, our religious community in Taiwan is composed of four Comboni priests consisting of two Filipinos, a Polish and a Peruvian.
After my formative years in the Philippines, Mexico and Peru, I thought going to Taiwan would be the same as going to any other place but I was wrong. It was definitely different from what I was expecting. First, the language is so difficult, considering that I am not familiar with the characters and the tones. I thought I was in a different planet.
Secondly, the culture is quite different from where I was raised and from the other places I had been to. The mentality and way of expressing oneself is so distinct and different. Everything was new to me. Even the church, I perceived it as somehow traditional and conservative. Despite the aforesaid feeling, I was challenged to face this new reality in my life. I was truly encouraged by the warm welcome and hospitality of the people in the parish.
My year-and-a half experience in Taiwan, especially living with the small flock of the followers of Jesus, made me appreciate the richness and diversity of the place. The Taiwanese can truly be called “religious” in its true essence. They have high regard for the Divine. They believe in a Supreme Being who provides all their needs and answers their petitions. Our parishioners also have this deep sense of awareness and reverence for the divinity. One can easily see their devotion to what is considered sacred. Their seriousness and high respect for the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, bespeaks of a deep spirituality.
Their strong sense of belonging to a community is also something that I admire among the Taiwanese Catholics. This can be attributed to their minimal number. Almost everybody knows each other and one can see how they cordially interact and mingle among the community members. The connection among them is quite evident to the extent that whenever there is a new face among them, they would really be interested in finding out to which parish he or she belongs.
In April, last year, I was filled with joy taking my perpetual vows and when I was ordained deacon at St. Anne’s Parish. It was so special for me considering that it was the first ordination in the parish. It was a very memorable event for the parishioners, too. They enthusiastically helped in the preparations and even participated in a simple program after the ordination. For us Comboni Missionaries in Asia, it was also a symbolic and hope-filled event because, for the first time, a Comboni missionary was ordained deacon in a Chinese territory after more than twenty years of presence in this part of the world. Back home, On the 5th of November 2016, I was ordained priest by Bishop Arturo M. Bastes, SVD, Bishop of the Diocese of Sorsogon, Philippines. (Margarito Garrido)