Consolata Missionaries in Taiwan: Some Current Updates

CONCOLATA IN TAIWAN AT SIX YEARS OF PRESENCE – Jan 2021 

(by Fr. Mathews Odhiambo Owuor)

The story of Consolata Missionaries in Taiwan – here are the three teams

What is Taiwan, a country or just a province of China? Well, this is a common question I often get from many of my friends, family members as well as members of our Religious Congregation. Despite the fact that many have and can read all such relevant detail from the internet, I also recognize that this whole issue is rather complex and only those interested in history and politics would have the patience to scrutinize. However, in brief, Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia; nevertheless, due to historical One-China political agreement, China still considers Taiwan as part of the mainland.

The main island of Taiwan has an area of 35,808 square kilometres (13,826 sq mi), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two-thirds and plains in the western third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. Taipei is the capital as well as the largest metropolitan area of Taiwan. With 23.57 million inhabitants, this tiny Island is among the most densely populated countries in the world visa viz its size.

In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle.”[1] Of interest to note here is that Taiwan has a democratic system of governance which makes it completely different from the Mainland China, especially with regards to religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc. It is in this context that we now highlight the religious aspect in the Island, being of interest to us since we are a religious congregation whose main interest in the Island is evangelization.

It is common knowledge that in Taiwan, Religion is characterized by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. This is viewed to be partly because freedom of religion is inscribed in the country’s constitution. According to the census of 2005 (although these statistics have certainly changed over the years), 35% of the country’s population adhered to Buddhism, 33% to Taoism (including local religions), 3.9% to Christianity (2.6% of Protestants and 1.3% of Roman Catholics), 18.7% identified themselves as not religious, and approximately 10% were adherents of folk religious movements of salvation (among them 3.5% adhered to Yiguandao).[2]

Despite the fact that the two above mentioned religious movements (Buddhism & Taoism) enjoy the biggest following in Taiwan, we must recognize that the backbone of Chinese value system and such religious teachings is Confucianism. Confucius teachings are engrained in the Chinese culture with significant ramifications in religious teachings and practices in the entire Chinese world; however, there is yet another area that should never be left out when talking about religions in Taiwan; that is, the “Taiwanese folk religions.” One question that is often asked about religion in Taiwan is whether the people are Buddhists of Taoists; what is not clear to many is the fact that the folk religions are far much influential to the lives of the Taiwanese and should not be taken for granted.[3]

As a point of departure, I would like to point out the fact that when dealing with pluri-religious contexts (such as Taiwan), and in agreement with the sentiments of Philip Clart and Charles B. Jones, we must recognize the fact that “religious traditions are not static objects to be described and cataloged so as to arrive at an eternally valid knowledge of them”.[4] The pre 1949 Taiwan religious outfit and that which followed afterwards are significantly different. Taiwan later experienced lots of social, economic, technological, political and cultural changes, all of which had some influence in the shaping of the religious outfit we have in Taiwan today.

Such is exactly the kind of Sitz im Leben around which the Consolata Missionaries is ubicated.  For a better coverage of what the Consolata Missionaries are with respect to their presence on the Island, I’ll divide this reflection into three basic parts: Consolata Missionaries in Taiwan, Our Lady Consolata in Taiwan, Our Founder in Taiwan, and finally Our Missionaries in Taiwan.

  1. CONSOLATA MISSIONARIES & TAIWAN

September 12th, 2014 is the magic and historic date to remember. This was the very first day when the first three Consolata Missionaries set their foot on the Island, marking the official commencement of the new IMC mission in Taiwan. 

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The Inaugural Mass celebrated on the very day of the arrival on the Island, September 12th 2014

The details of this New Opening have been the topic of my previous Articles; therefore, this would be a rather modest description of the journey made within these six years of the IMC presence in Taiwan.

The IMC presence has been comprised of three main groups of missionaries:

  • The three pioneer missionaries: Fr. Eugenio Boatella Cumpian, later given the name 歐尤金; Fr. Mathews Odhiambo Owuor, whose Chinese name became 歐瑪竇; and finally, Fr. Piero Da Maria, also called 扥伯鐸 in Chinese. Being the pioneer group, therefore, it is pointless to mention that they arrived in Taiwan on 12th September 2014. Fr. Piero, due to health reasons left the team sometime in 2015 after over 8 months of his stay in Taiwan. Fr. Eugenio too would later get a new destination after having completed his full term of five (5) years as prescribed in the contract between the IMC and the diocese of Hsinchu.
  • The 2nd team consisted of the following: Fr. Jasper Kirimi, also called 柯嘉思 and Fr. Gilberto Rodriguez DaSilva whose Chinese name become 記明森. They joined the Taiwan Group in mid 2017.
  • The 3rd team also consisted of 2 missionaries: Fr. Bernardo Kim, called 金鍾鉉 in Chinese, and Fr. Emanuel Barnabas Temu, whose Chinese name is 伊提牡.

From the above data, it is evident that the IMC Group in Taiwan currently counts five (5) members with a promise of two more to come in the course of this year 2021. 

One important aspect to note here is the fact that the Taiwan Group within the IMC becomes the very first ever to engage into a contractual model of setup with the local church; in this case, the Hsinchu Diocese. A full term of the contract is 5 years. The terms of contract demand of Party A (the Diocese) to provide accommodation, language course for two years and a monthly allowance during the period of two years to Party B (IMC, Taiwan). For the remaining 3 years, the missionaries would serve the diocese in whichever role the Bishop would avail; which so far has been parish work, except for the office of Vocations Director offered to the team last year. Interesting to note is that the the bishop would provide accommodation, means of transport, health insurance as well as monthly allowance for the rest of this period. The contract is renewable for as long as the IMC stays in the Island.

Six year have gone by and all we can say is a big thanks to the Lord who has seen as through the difficult beginnings. The road has been neither all rosy nor all rocky. 

  1. The following have been our joys:
  • Fulfilment of “the missionary dream”. 

All of us missionaries, at some point dreamt of “missionary adventure”. I mean the kind of experience that would turn your world upside-down into making you acknowledge your “religious, cultural and social innocence.” Simply put, Asia is just another world! If one had the passion to come here and evangelize, you better think otherwise. The truth is that at the end of the day, you will realize that the “evangelized” is actually you; or if not, then you will simply feel irrelevant and return back home. Asia teaches one to be humble, and I mean humble! You begin a new birth, right from the naming to everything else, since everything else is different. That’s what I call “missionary adventure.” Try it with an open heart and mind, and you will never regret it.

  • “Asia doesn’t need the IMC, it is the IMC that need Asia”. 

This was a statement said to us by the Superior General (Fr. Stefano Camerlengo) on the eve of the three pioneers’ departure to Taiwan. He probably didn’t mean it, or maybe he had no practical idea of what he was talking about (since he has never had an Asian experience); nevertheless, I do affirm that these were real “prophetic words.” For the past six year, my life has been a constant learning curve. I learn from the great religions, which among other things, existed long before Christianity. This spirit of openness to learn from other cultures and religions is enshrined in the FABC theology of the Triple Dialogue as well as in the documents of the Church:

But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God.[5]

  1. There have also been areas of difficulties
  • Language

I assume that no one would forgive me if I don’t mention the difficult nature of Chinese language. Depending on the source of your information, Mandarin is ranked first or among the first hardest languages to learn from an English-speaking background. We are given a basic two year of class work and at graduation time, my teacher asked me to permit her to share with me her honest opinion of my Mandarin level. Of course, I did; and so, she told me that I had done so well and that my level was an equivalent to that of a Taiwanese class one child. Well, if you think that this was amusing, then we are reading from two different scripts.

  • Food

Just like I did mention above, Asia is just different including everything else that makes it what it is. I literally can’t figure out which local foods would resemble my native ones. This means that a process of adaptation in Asia should be viewed from the point of view of a “rebirth.” Nevertheless, “where there is a will there is a way,” because if I tell you that I am not enjoying the local cuisine, then I’ll be lying. Actually, Taiwan is home to one of the extravagant variety of fruits and vegetables you can ever imagine; and this applies to sea food (remember that this is an Island), etc.

  • Culture

To the best of my knowledge (and this could be a subjective opinion anyway), this has been the most challenging area to adapt to. No one needs to remind you that you are different and a foreigner in Taiwan; you will just feel it, probably even in your dreams. These cultures are far different from what we are used to, and a lot of humility is required in order to adapt and feel somehow accepted by the local people. The key words here are humility, time and patience. This justifies the fact that a minimum of 10 years of presence in Asia would be too little to learn and appreciate these complex cultures.

  • IMC’S MISSIONARY WORK & EVANGELISM IN TAIWAN 

Right from the beginning, the first missionaries made it clear to the Local Ordinary (bishop) the Charism, spirituality and the Mission of the Consolata Missionaries, as is enshrined in their Constitutions. The Charism, Missio ad Gentes,[6] is well known to many and in fact many other Religious or Missionary Congregations too share the same Charism; however, our Spirituality was more striking to the bishop; that is, Consolation. This is manifested in the process of rolling out our mission, which among other things, has two fundamental pillars: 

  • Proclamation of the Gospel – At the very core of the raison d’etre of the Consolata Missionaries is the proclamation of the gospel, preferably to the non-Christians all over the world. This would justify our presence in Taiwan, a country with just about 4% of its total population being Christians. Proclamation of the gospel is realized through various means: Missionary Animation, Interreligious Dialogue, Parish work, the Youth, Work among the Immigrants, etc.
  • Human Promotion: The founder believed that “no one can accept the gospel on an empty stomach.” This statement refers to all human situations of pain and sufferings (poverties, social injustices, diseases, etc.) The congregation, therefore, actively engages in such activities and projects that would uplift the living standards of people and alleviate their pain and sufferings. 

In the written presentation which was prepared for the bishop, therefore, the Charism, Spirituality and Mission were very well spelt out so as to avoid misunderstanding at the time of practical mission work in the diocese. Nevertheless, the bishop’s other important concern was to know who we were; that is, what made the Consolata Missionaries distinct from the other many Congregations present in the diocese? In response, the bishop received the summary of what constitutes the fundamental characteristics of the Consolata Missionaries; that is:

“The characteristics that make our congregation unique and distinct from other religious congregations in the Catholic Church are: Fidelity and adherence to the life and teaching of our founder Blessed Joseph Allamano; Reverence and devotion to the patroness of our congregation Our Blessed Lady “Consolata,” named after Our Lady of Consolation; Eucharistic Missionaries that is, we live a Eucharistic life – making the Eucharist the source and apex of our work of evangelization, the center to which the spiritual life of both individuals and communities tends and consequently, is the motivation of a life spent in continuous thanksgiving; Evangelization of non-Christians under the directives of the Magisterium; Love for the Sacred Liturgy i.e a fervent and dignified manner of celebrating the liturgy and taking part in it and living by its Spirit; Family Spirit = all members are as brothers and accept each other as such; they show concern for each other, live their mission united in mind and heart, and make their own the joys, suffering and hopes of the whole congregation; Lastly the value and love of work – means of work we acquire a practical sense of reality and service; we contribute to human development and to evangelization, and to the smooth running of our communities.”[7]

The bishop expressed excitement to this adding that the local church as well as his diocesan priests really needed a missionary shake-up or reawakening for that matter. He felt that this task was proper for a Missionary Congregation like ours. He then encouraged us to remain focused on our Charism, Spirituality and Mission. However, he did remind us that this was Asia, and that missionary activity was to be streamlined towards the general evangelical plan and dream of the “Federation of the Asian Bishops’ Conferences” (FABC). 

To put this into context, and for purposes of consistency, it is important to discuss issues concerning apostolate within the context of the FABC theology & missiology, since this is the theological umbrella under which all pastoral agents in Asia ought to operate. What is the background of the FABC theology and missiological methodology? Well, reports from the studies done on the new and emerging contextual Asian theologies in general, indicate that they tend to have a common characteristic, that is, their self-definition against Western theological structures and patterns. Western theology is assessed to be inadequate for and incompatible with Asian contexts.[8] Chia asserts that, even today, in many Asian countries it is generally held that Christianity is a religion of Westerners.[9]

This can be easily explained based on colonialism which laid a heavy Western burden on Christian faith, as a reason. Consequently, when this yoke was finally removed, the search for a new Asian identity began. However, it is certainly not correct to interpret the attempts to create Asian theologies merely as opposition to the heritage of colonialism. Rather, the end of the colonial era created more space for searching for ways of creating indigenous contextual theologies. Many Asian theologians genuinely felt that new theological paradigms were needed; the models heretofore were unsuitable for and unsuccessful in presenting the Christian gospel in Asia.[10] In other words, the time of a single, universally standard and everywhere applicable theology was over,[11] manifesting a clear dawn of the pluriformity of theologies.[12]

The FABC, right from its inception, had a clear dream; that of “incarnating” the Gospel message into the Asian context. It was to make the church in Asia have the “face of Asia,” hence the fundamental concept of “Being Asian” or “Asianness”. In order to realize this dream, the FABC committed itself to “acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral good found among the people of Asia as well as the values in their society and cultures.”[13] Owing to this fact, therefore, after the fundamental concept of “Asianness”, the second pilar in the FABC’s contextual theology is obviously Dialogue with: a) the diversity of Asian cultures; b) the plurality of Asian religions; and c) the poverty of a vast number of Asians.[14]

Now, as you can imagine, this was essentially the background of the bishop’s exhortation to us. He was simply encouraging us, the newly arrived IMC to the Island, to pay attention to these core principles of the Asian theology as we roll out our evangelical task. At the same time, may I remind you that, since the IMC and the local church had signed the renewable 5 year contract, which included two years of Mandarin language course and the remaining year for pastoral engagements, it was paramount to remain within the diocesan pastoral plan for as long as we remain within the contract. This left us with very little room to do mission our way; however, truth be said, we really wouldn’t have done otherwise since the whole context was completely alien to us and almost repugnant to our traditional IMC missionary methodologies, especially the “Human Promotion” aspect.

Therefore, true to his words and consistent with the terms of contract, at the end of the first two years, the bishop gave to the IMC the “Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish” which previously belonged to the Jesuits (for 64 years).[15] Nothing would have been more difficult than inheriting a Parish from the founders, like the Jesuits, whose laid down traditions are considered immutable. Mind you, our level of language was equivalent to that of a class one child, and that would apply to the level of our cultural familiarity too. 

Well, God is good all the time! Six year down the line, we now have two parishes (Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish and St. Joseph Parish) and two communities, all ubicated in Hsinchu diocese, Taiwan. Besides, we have also been entrusted with a special service to the diocese, that is, the “Vocations Direction.” 

But before I end this part on mission and evangelization in Taiwan, allow me to note down some of our valuable reflections which are fruits of our own missionary experiences gathered so far:

  1. Once a missionary, always a missionary!

In what might look like our mission in Taiwan has been reduced to parish work; well, we beg to differ with this position. At this point let’s recall to mind the statement of the General superior to the three pioneers on the eve of their departure: “Asia doesn’t need the IMC, it is the IMC that needs Asia.” Like I previously did mention, this was a prophetic statement. The mere fact of being in Taiwan, among these complex cultures and plurality of religions, is by itself mission. It demands of one a high level of humility and a life of testimony in order to make the locals have confidence with you. It is only after such level that they may dare to approach and engage you on any conversation.

By the way, I never valued my religious and missionary formation so much like I do today, thanks to the Taiwan experience. The exposure to missionary formation and life enables one to be adaptable, accessible, patient, tolerant, and to use St. Paul’s words: “To the weak, I made myself weak. I accommodated myself to people in all kinds of different situations, so that by all possible means I might bring some to salvation” (1 Cor 9:22). 

  • Dialogue

Asia is known as the womb of the great world religions, with all the great scriptural religions having been born in Asian soil. Like is rightly stated in the FABC documents, “The psyche of an average Asian is still shaped by spiritual experiences and religious traditions.”[16] The Asian religious pluralism actually is both a socio-historical fact as well as a divine grace. The same could be said about the great diversity of cultures characteristic of the vast continent. And finally, though not a desirable fact, is the reality of poverties affecting a vast number of the Asian People. Here, then, is the justification of the FABC’s Triple Dialogical approach to mission in Asia, an imperative for all pastoral agents in the continent. May I remind our readers that this triple dialogue is not just a social affair but has a clear theological dimension as is indicated in the FABC documents: 

The foundation for such a commitment to dialogue is not merely anthropological but primarily theological. In Christ, God has entered into dialogue with human beings, offering them salvation. It is in faithfulness to the divine initiative that the Church should be committed to a dialogue of salvation with all women and men. Moreover, this dialogue is founded on the fact that Christ, the new Adam, is at work through his Spirit in all human persons to bring about a new humanity.[17]

Waking up to this reality, therefore, I came to realization that doing mission in Asia without a spirit of “dialogue” is simply like playing football outside the pitch. But then, any effective dialogue requires the right motivation and attitude. It is a humbling exercise. To achieve one’s missionary dream in Taiwan, therefore, wrap yourself with the mantle of “dialogue.” We are learning how to be missionaries of dialogue; how we wish that this would have been emphasized during our formation process.

  • Parish 

Many of our confreres do not understand why one would go to Taiwan just to work in a parish. Well, things seem to be very different here. Taiwanese are naturally shy towards foreigners and would not easily engage themselves into conversations. Furthermore, religious activities are prohibited in public institutions (schools, hospitals, workplaces, etc.) This leaves missionaries outside the normal life of the people. The foreigner is naturally closed out of the precincts of social and public life of the people. Where then would the missionary find his/her operational base? In the parish.

For instance, in what has become the main avenue for an effective evangelization, the funeral services conducted in the parishes are occasions of convergence of hundreds of people, majority of whom have never had any contact with the Christian world. Thanks to the wonderful parish service to then and their departed member, a significant number of the attendants would always express the desire to become Christian, hence the beginning of catechetical instructions. 

In summary, therefore, we thank God for the confidence and the trust the Bishop has in us. It is a challenge for us to maintain and present the good image him and the local church have for us, for the good of the future of IMC.

  • OUR LADY CONSOLATA AND TAIWAN

The Prayers of Our Lady in Chinese already in use

The presence of the Consolata Missionaries on the Island is hardly seven years and yet the kind of reception which Our Lady Consolata has been accorded by the local faithful has been amazing. This is probably owing to the fact that the veneration of the Virgin Mary in Taiwan under the powerful movement of the “Legion of Mary,” is one of the main pillars of the Taiwan Church; and so, any title of the virgin Mary would automatically be welcome. 

Let’s begin with the name of Our Lady Consolata as she is known in Taiwan. Well, this wasn’t an easy task to accomplish. On the arrival of the first missionaries on the Island, among the very first challenge was the issue of names. The Chinese world has a logic of giving names far different from what we are used to in the West. Names are given and must make sense. They are given by competent authorities and not just anybody. Consequently, since there was the need to give names to the three missionaries, the Founder too needed to be renamed and so was with the name of the congregation. What this meant was that Our Lady Consolata was going to have a new name, a Chinese name; what? Yes! Remembers that no such thing had ever happened in the entire history of our congregation. How then were we to invent a new name for the congregation, Our Lady and the Founder? 

After obtaining the consent of the General Superior and his council, the local bishop (Rt. Rev. bishop John Lee) then gave to the IMC the name, 聖母安慰 which corresponds to “Mother of Consolation.” But then there was a problem; the Augustinian Sisters too have “Our Mother of Consolation” or “Our Lady of Consolation” whose translation in Chinese is precisely 聖母安慰; there is even a shrine for her in China with this name. How then were we going to have the same name? 

After further discussions with the bishop, explaining the difference between “consolation” and “Consolata”, and wondering whether there would be such a concept in Chinese characters that would bring out the aspect of “divine consolation received by Mary and then given to the world.” After grasping our point, the bishop exclaimed: “I have finally understood your point! She will be called 神慰之母 and so the congregation will be called 聖母神慰會.” The 神慰之母 literally means “Mother of Divine Consolation” or if you like, “Our Lady of Divine consolation.” This would differentiate her from “Mother of Consolation.” The Congregation’s name therefore is derived from Our Lady’s name, that is, 聖母神慰會, literally translated as the “Congregation of the Holy Mother of Divine Consolation,” otherwise called “Mother of Divine Consolation Missionaries.”

The name was sent to the General Superior who, having no linguistic grounds to challenge the name, signed the Decree for the official use of the name in Taiwan. What we didn’t know was that this name was simply a blessing in disguise to the future development and acceptance of the Congregation into the local church. This is owing to the fact that the Virgin Mary occupies an important position in the spirituality of the local faithful. There is a background to this. Here below I’ll try to give a modest explanation of this phenomenon.

It has been mentioned that Taiwan is home to a huge number of religions with thousands of gods, and yet at the same time is one of the few countries in the world with an incredible total religious freedom. But let us pick some interest here on the area of the deities or gods, especially as concerns the role of gender in the world of the gods in Taiwan, leading to the explicit and even sometimes exaggerated respect to the virgin Mary. It is interesting to note that, despite the low traditional socio-cultural position of women as compared to men in Taiwan, the female figure is held with high esteem and respect in the area of the gods. The three most notable female goddesses in Taiwan would be Kuan Yin[18], Ma Tsu, and “Eternal Mother”[19]

Of particular interest for us due to her apparent spiritual resemblance with the Virgin Mary’s story is the goddess Ma Tsu (also spelled as Mazu) whose spiritual influence on the Island is far superior to the other two goddesses. Mazu’s influence is actually felt even across other religions like Christianity (especially Catholicism) in relation to the “virgin Mary.” The Catholic Church in Taiwan, which has largely been identified with Mary (also called the Church of Mary, while the Protestant Churches are called the followers of Jesus), is in many pastoral occasions been confronted with the need to clarify the spiritual difference between the virgin Mary and Mazu, the Chinese sea goddess. Many Taiwanese Catholic faithful, therefore, by not finding any significant difference between the two, manifest a syncretic tendency of veneration to both Mary and Mazu, as if they were both goddesses. 

The Consolata Missionaries, having Mary at the centre of her spirituality, with such a beautiful icon (this is the remark of the locals), found a soft landing on the Island. It hasn’t been so difficult to explain who the Consolata Missionaries are due to its link to the Virgin Mary. Every year during the Feast of Consolata, the congregation prints a significant number of Our Lady Consolata’s icons to be worn by answering relevant questions. This has become a battlefield since everyone wants the icons. The rationale behind the interest is the strong conviction of her spiritual and “divine” powers to fulfil the dreams of the people.  

  • BLESSED JOSEPH ALLAMANO AND TAIWAN

Our Founder and the Characteristics of the IMC

One of the major surprises the three Consolata pioneers to the Island had was the fact that apparently no one in the Bishop’s complex (Cathedral and the offices) had ever heard about the Consolata Missionaries; not even the bishop. Now, it was logical that no one would have heard of Blessed Joseph Allamano. Therefore, after the lengthy explanation of our Congregation to the Bishop (which included the explanation about Our Lady Consolata), the next major task was to make him, and the team know about our Founder – Allamano. This process was to end with the giving of a new name to the Founder as well.

From the onset, the translation of “Allamano” presented a huge problem. Like all may imagine, Joseph being a Biblical name, would remain the same; that is, 若瑟。What about Allamano? Being an Italian name with no specific meaning, all was left for the bishop to figure out the best way to come up with a name which would at least sound like “Allamano”. After consulting various language professors at the language Centre, the consensus was 阿拉莫諾 (literally translated as “Allamuonuo); however, the bishop would now consent to this name owing to the fact that it sounded like the Islamic name of Allah (安拉 or 阿拉) and that would be problematic since it would give the impression that the congregation was actually an Islamic group. But then what else would be the alternative since there were no other Chinese characters which would not lead to this danger? 

The bishop was left with no alternative but to change the character 阿拉 (Alla) with 歐拉 (Oulla). The rest would remain the same, settling for 歐拉莫諾 (Oullamuonuo). Note that the bishop had previously given the same surname歐to two of the pioneer missionaries; that is: 歐尤金 (Fr. Eugenio Boatella) and 歐瑪竇 (Fr. Mathews Odhiambo) while the third had a completely different surname all together. For this reason, therefore, the missionaries objected to this new Founder’s name since his surname would be the same as the other two priests; however, having no other alternatives, the new founder’s name became official upon the Decree of consent from the General Superior.

But what was the meaning of this name given to the founder? Well, nothing! The effort was to bring out a sound closer to “Allamano” and so, this was the closest. Nevertheless, 歐 (Ou) in the local Taiwanese language means “black”, while in Chinese it is simply a surname. But away from the naming, how has the founder been perceived in the local church of Taiwan?

While Our Lady Consolata has had a considerably good reception into the local church (Taiwan), on the contrary, the figure of the Blessed Joseph Allamano (the Founder of the Consolata Missionaries) has had a rather hard time to diffuse among the faithful as well as to the non-Christians. I may point out two reasons for such low reception: 

  • Allamano is just a “Blessed” and not a Saint. 

This may seem rather strange to the Western mindset; while for the Chinese world, everything goes with levels of importance, positions, authority, etc. The background of such a worldview is the Confucius philosophy. Confucian teachings are based on its emphasis on the cultivation of virtue in a morally organized world. It does this by instilling in people a number of ethical concepts and practices:

  1. Rén (– human heartedness; goodness; benevolence, man-to-man-ness; what makes man distinctively human (that which gives human beings their humanity). It is the virtue-form of heaven.[20]The first principle of Confucianism is to act according to rén/仁: it is the ultimate guide to human action. 
  • Lǐ ()[21] – is a system of ritual norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act in everyday life in harmony with the law of heaven; demonstrating your inner attitude with your outward expressions. Because Confucianism recognizes the need for a well ordered society to enable 仁 to be expressed: therefore, there are two basic meanings to 禮:
  1. Concrete guide to human relationships or rules of proper action that genuinely embody 仁. This has to do with the way things should be done or propriety: positive rather than negative (“Do’s rather than Don’ts), with emphasis on the openness of people to each other. It is composed of basic components:
    1. The ratification of names – language used in accordance with the truth of things. It means that if you want to do something, you must first have a proper reasonable name and meaning, so that things can make sense, and in so doing, there will be a way to generate a positive call to get things done the right way.
      1. The doctrine of the means – proper action of the way between two extremes (中庸之道).
      1. The five relationships(五倫:君臣、父子、夫婦、兄弟、朋友) – the way things should be done in social life; none of the relationships are transitive. In this section we find the formidable Confucian virtue of Tiao/孝 also known as Filial Piety. (Note that 3 of 5 relations involve family; the family is the basic unit of society). 
      1. Respect for age (敬老尊賢– age gives all things their worth: objects, institutions, and individual lives. 
  1. Principle of social order; ritual; ordering of life; conforming to the norms of  (the limits and authenticity of ).

The plurality of religions in the Island therefore offers the people an array of gods to choose from and the more powerful one is the better. In such context therefore, a prayer from a Martyr or a Saint is seen to be more powerful than one from a Blessed. This is an area to further explore in my focus to make the local people understand that such hierarchical understanding of the world of the Saints, Martyrs, Blessed, etc., isn’t correct. 

  • Allamano is just a “newcomer”

Taiwan has an old history of evangelization, and after China’s Communist Revolution in 1949, a huge number of Missionary Congregations came to Taiwan from China, causing a big missionary presence on the Island. Each congregation came in with their own Founders, Saints, etc. The Consolata Missionaries are among the las to arrive on the Island and so it is logical that it may take longer for the Founder to be assimilated within the local church.

Having made the above preliminary observations, nevertheless, we want to reiterate the fact that no seed falls on the ground without bearing fruits (Jn 12:24). The seed of Allamano is being sown into the hearts of the local faithful on a constant yearly rhythm. We have been doing this during the annual Founder’s Feast (16thFebruary) and on the Consolata Feast (20th June). Many written materials have been translated to this cause and we are glad that there has been the willingness on the side of the faithful to carry them home. 

The peak of this journey was the September 2019 pilgrimage to the tomb of the Founder in “Casa Madre” (Turin) which culminated with the visit to the Founder’s birthplace, Castel novo D’asti. The 17 Taiwanese pilgrims (16 Catholics and 1 protestant) were thrilled by the explanations given to them by Fr. Trabbucco, in front of the tomb of the Founder. The visit and the Mass at the Cosnsolata Shrine (Turin) just added to the already ignited fire in them, the love for the Founder and the Consolata. Consequently, the following were written down by the representative of the tram as a reflection to be shared among the Christian community. They reflect the very values upheld by the Taiwanese regardless of religious affiliation:

  1. “First Saints then Missionaries”[22]

Just as has been noted above, the Chinese (and indeed Taiwanese) worldview is essentially weaved by the Confucius principles of life, of which the first and most important one is Rén (仁) – human heartedness; goodness; benevolence, man-to-man-ness; what makes man distinctively human (that which gives human beings their humanity). It is the virtue-form of heaven.[23] The first principle of Confucianism is to act according to rén/仁: it is the ultimate guide to human action. The “First Saints then Missionaries” explanation given by Fr. Trabbucco fitted perfectly into this concept of 仁。 The pilgrims couldn’t stop praising the wisdom of our Founder in demanding of his missionaries to embrace 仁 and a basis of effective evangelization. It is incredible how the Founder has suddenly become appreciated by this group based on this principle of 仁. This may be a steppingstone for us to infuse more of the Founder’s teachings on the people who already seem to be receptive of his ideals.

  • “The good must be done well and without noise”[24]

I actually had no idea that this principle would have any connection with the Chinese moral world view, until after the September 2019 pilgrimage to Italy. The article written by the team’s representative indicated how this Allamano’s teaching on “the good” and “silence” was more Confucius than I thought. Confucius’ above cardinal principles include the  (– rightness, duty as guardians of nature and humanity; which is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. [25] It is linked to the Confucius’ “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.”

Fr. Trabbucco emphasized the fact that the Founder himself was a man of silence and contemplation, values that echoed with the local religious values of the Chinese world. This 義, just like in the case of 仁, becomes the basis of understanding and accepting Allamano despite the fact that he isn’t a Saint. We are appreciative of the missionaries who helped in explaining and inspiring the Taiwanese pilgrims into understanding, admiring and accepting the founder. More remains to be done, but just as the good saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”

  • OUR MISSIONARIES IN TAIWAN
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The current IMC members in Taiwan

A brief historical overview of Taiwan’s colonial trajectory as well as foreign presence would suffice to illustrate the state of affairs with regards to the reception of foreign missionaries or otherwise. The island was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century,[26] followed by an influx of Hoklo people including Hakka immigrants from the Fujian and Guangdong areas of mainland China, across the Taiwan Strait. Later on, the Spanish built a settlement in the north for a brief period but were driven out by the Dutch in 1642.[27]

In 1662, Koxinga, a loyalist of the Ming dynasty who had lost control of mainland China in 1644, defeated the Dutch and established a base of operations on the island. His forces were defeated by the Qing dynasty in 1683, and parts of Taiwan became increasingly integrated into the Qing empire. Following the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, the Qing ceded the Island, along with Penghu, to the Empire of Japan. 

In 1945, following the end of World War II, the national government of the Republic of China (ROC), led by the Kuomintang (KMT), took control of Taiwan. In 1949, after losing control of mainland China in the Chinese Civil War, the ROC government under the KMT withdrew to Taiwan and Chiang Kai-shek declared martial law. The KMT ruled Taiwan (along with the Islands of Kinmen, Wugiu and the Matsu on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait) as a single-party state for forty years, until democratic reforms in the 1980s, which led to the first-ever direct presidential election in 1996. 

This brief history reveals what informs the background of current Taiwan’s social-cultural outfit. It is clear that the inhabitants of the Island had very little contact with people from the West. The entire Taiwanese worldview is informed by the Asian (Chinese-Japanese) as well as local lifestyle and mindset. Needless to say, that the average Taiwanese had never had a chance to meet a black man/woman in practical life. 

This background is important to enable one to understand why Taiwanese react to foreigners (especially of non-Asian origin) the way they do.

  • African or non-African

After the Chinese Civil war (or sometimes called the Communist Revolution) in 1949, many foreign missionaries who were expelled from the mainland China came to the Island for refuge, waiting for such a time when all would settle down so that they might return to mainland China.[28] That dream has never come to pass. Consequently, Taiwan was faced with an unprecedented problem; that is, so many missionary congregations with an influx of missionaries (some of whom were bishops) with nothing to do, or better put, no territory to operate from. 

Due to this territorial problem, therefore, the local church distributed the numerous Missionary congregations to the various territories on the Island, resulting into seven dioceses. Remember that virtually all of these foreign missionaries were from Europe and America. Africa wasn’t yet in the picture. With the passing of time and owing to the massive missionary activities on the Island, many local people became believers, totaling to about 300,000 in total. Many analysists concur to the fact that the state of poverty under which Taiwan was in contributed to the high numbers of converts since the missionaries fundamentally embarked on acts of human promotion as a means of uplifting the lives of the people.

After the “Taiwan economic miracle”, things drastically changed; more local vocations came up replacing the foreign bishops on the Island, a drastic drop in new baptisms, the churches virtually remaining only for the old, fewer missionaries from Europe and America (due to few vocations), etc.

At this juncture, Taiwan just woke up to a new reality; that is, the emergence of African (black) missionaries from the continent. How were they to handle this new situation since they had never been exposed to black people throughout their entire colonial and evangelization history? Such is the underlying background of the current environment in which the Consolata Missionaries (as well as many other foreign missionary congregations) operate. Any foreigner form the West (Europe or America) would always find a soft landing in Taiwan and his missionary work is halfway done. The African missionaries have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts. They have to roll up their sleeves, take a deep breath, have a good resilience, and above all be really good so as to be well accepted locally.

Despite this statement, however, I would wish to correct some erroneous concept in circulation among many of our missionaries outside Asia. Many are of the opinion that “Asia is not ready for Africans.” This refrain was repeatedly said to us before coming to Asia; giving the impression that it is practically impossible for an African to effectively evangelize in Asia. Well, I hold a contrary opinion, and this is a product my own experience of six years of missionary work in Taiwan. Besides, I admire the tens of African missionaries who preceded us here and are doing an incredible job of evangelization on the Island.

I have personally come to believe that in life, “you receive exactly what you give.” If you give love then you receive love in return, and vice versa. These same Taiwanese, who according to many friends’ opinions, are people who can’t be trusted, have actually become my great buddies. I just realized that “I simply poured out love to them”, and now they are returning it back to me in a big way. Well, I can assure you that this is the same story of a good number of our African comrades here.  

  • Basic missiological Attitudes Appropriate for Asia

There is one thing that is definitely disappointing to missionaries coming from the Christian worlds (Africa, Latin America, the Philippines, South Korea, Europe, etc.) to Taiwan. In such mentioned Christian worlds characterized by abundance of the faithful in parishes, huge choirs for liturgical celebrations, colourful liturgies with altar servers, an amazing respect for priests, etc., doing mission is the dream of every missionary. Things are all in their right place and, despite the workload, the heart would always be contented at the end of every day’s work. 

Well, a missionary in Taiwan must be prepared to face exactly the opposite: always less that 100 attendants of Sunday Mass, a choir of about 5-10 people if any, no respect for priests, etc. But is this bad? At the initial stages I used to be bothered by this situation based on my local religious background, however, that has been overcome and I am perfectly okay with my current order of things. 

Once again, it is all about attitude. The right attitude for the right situation can make a whole lot of a difference. The Taiwanese church is not looking for a saint, they are just looking for a good priest: simply human, and simply a priest! One who listens more and speaks less. One with a loving heart for the local people, cultures, religions, with no judgmental attitude. I am afraid some of these attitudes are not taught in formation, they are learnt in the field.  It’s hard to achieve such standards, however, with God’s help, nothing is impossible.

Welcome to Taiwan! 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Rosales, B. Gaudenzio and Arevalo, G. Catalino (Eds.), For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents 1970-1991, Vol. 1 (Manila: Claretian Publications, 1992).

Franz-Josef Eilers (Ed.), For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1992 to 1996, Vol.2 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 1997).

Franz-Josef Eilers (Ed.), For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 1997 to 2001, Vol.3 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2002).

Franz-Josef Eilers (Ed.), For All the Peoples of Asia: Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Documents from 2002 to 2006, Vol. 4 (Quezon City: Claretian Publications, 2007).

Vimal, Tirimanna (Ed.), For All the Peoples of Asia, FABC Documents from 2007 to 2012, Vol. 5, (Manila: Claretian Publications, 2014).

Chan Wing-tsit, “Kang Yu-wei and the Confucian Doctrine of Humanness (Ren),” in Kang Youwei: A Biography and A Symposium, ed. Lo Jung Pang (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1967).

Kyu-Talk, Sung and Bum Jung, Kim, (eds.), Respect for the Elderly: Implications for Human Service Providers(Forbes Boulevard: University Press of America, January 2009).

Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin, The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

Helle, Jukka, Towards a Truly Catholic and Truly Asian Church: An Asian Wayfaring Theology of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) 1970-2012 (Helsinki: University of Helsinki, May 2018).

Vatican Council II, Ad Gentes, on the Mission Activity of the Church, (Rome: Vatican Press, 1965.

Jordan, K. David, Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, Folk Religions in a Taiwanese Village, 2nd Ed. (Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd., 1985).

Clart, Philip & Jones, B. Charles, Religions in Modern Taiwan, Tradition and Innovation in a Changing Society(Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2003).

Kroeger, H. James, “Inculturation in Asia: Directions, Initiatives, and Options,” FABC Papers 115 (2005), http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-115. htm (accessed October 9, 2012).

Giuseppe Allamano, “This I want You to be”, Missionary Spirituality and Formation, Edited by Father Francesco Pavese IMC and Sister Angeles Mantineo MC (Rome: EMI, 2007).

Ruben C. Mendoza, Assuming all that is Asian: Becoming a Truly Local Church in Dialoguehttps://www.academia.edu/3805566/Assuming_All_That_Is_Asian (accessed on 2nd December 2020).

FABC, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Dialogue: Recourse Manual for Catholics in Asia, Edited by Edmund Chia, FSC (Bangkok: FABC-OEIA, 2001).

Weinrich, I. Ludwig, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Vol. 37, No. 4. (Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, 1968).


[1] “Taiwan Economic Miracle” refers to the rapid industrialization and economic growth of Taiwan during the latter half of the twentieth century. As it developed alongside Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, Taiwan became known as one of the “Four Asian Tigers”. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwan_Miracle (Accessed January 5, 2021).

[2] Religion in Taiwan – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org>wiki>Religion_in_Taiwan  (Accessed January 5, 2021).

[3] David K. Jordan, Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors, Folk Religions in a Taiwanese Village, 2nd Ed., (Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd., 1985), p. 27.

[4] Philip Clart & Charles B. Jones, Religions in Modern Taiwan, Tradition and Innovation in a Changing Society, (Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2003), p. 1.

[5] Vatican Council II, Ad Gentes, on the Mission Activity of the Church, (Rome: Vatican Press, 1965), 9. However, I do recognize that despite this statement from Ad Gentes, it is undeniable, the fact that it is still open to discussion whether the Council includes other religions per se in the “good” present in the rites and cultures”. Perhaps the Council fathers’ understanding is that the “whatever good” indicates only those elements that are present in these religions and cultures, not the religions and cultures in toto. See Jukka Helle, Towards a Truly Catholic and Truly Asian Church: An Asian Wayfaring Theology of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) 1970-2012 (Helsinki: University of Helsinki, May 2018), p. 116.

[6] Note that “Ad gentes” without the additional noun “Missio” or “Mission” is the common use in the Church documents, however, the meaning remains the same. It refers to the 2nd Vatican Council’s decree on missionary activity. The title “Ad Gentes” is Latin for “To the Nations,” and is from the first line of the decree, as is customary with most of Catholic documents. It establishes evangelization as one of the fundamental missions of the Catholic Church and reaffirms the tie between evangelization and charity for the poor. Ad gentes also calls for the formation of strong Christian communities as well as strong relations with other Christians. Finally, it lays out guidelines for the training and actions of the missionaries. See “Ad Gentes”, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, (Georgetown University: Archived from the original on 2018-04-13), Retrieved 2018-04-13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_gentes (Accessed January 6, 2021).

[7] http://www.consolatamissionarieskenya.co.ke/?page_id=7 (Accessed January 6, 2021).

[8] Such a feeling of the foreignness of the Christian faith in Asia was clearly experienced also by the FABC. This is a repeatedly appearing comment in FABC’s documents; see e.g. BIRA IV/2 3, FAPA 1, 251-252. This challenge is noted also in the connection of inculturation which is argued to be an indispensable necessity for the Church’s mission. Consultation on “Evangelization and Inculturation” FAPA 3, 217.

[9] This point has already been briefly mentioned in the first part of this Paper. It is again brought up here for its relevance in ubication the FABC’s contextual theology within the large Asian contextual theologies. See Chia’s (2003, 167) personal testimony: “The Christian religion is regarded foreign, much the same way Western persons living in Asia – even if for decades and centuries – are perceived as foreign. The Malay language even labels Christianity as agama orang putih, which literally means “the white man’s religion.” I myself have witnessed this attitude several times when I worked in Thailand.

[10] Jukka Helle, Towards a Truly Catholic and Truly Asian Church: An Asian Wayfaring Theology of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) 1970-2012 (Helsinki: University of Helsinki, May 2018), p. 13.https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/234405/Towardsa.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (Accessed December 9, 2020).

[11] Indicative to this trend and embrace of the new theological paradigm in Asia in notable in the abundant number of publications on Asian Christian theologies; good introductions to various important themes and authors are e.g., Christianities in Asia (ed. by Peter C. Phan), Christian Theology in Asia (ed. by Sebastian C. H. Kim) and recent and quite extensive The Oxford Handbook of Christianity in Asia (2014, edited by Felix Wilfred).

[12] There is no doubts that this is a hotly debated issue. This is because acknowledging the pluriformity, or diversity, of theologies of course also implies the question about theology of religions. Especially in Asian contexts, where the mutual existence of religions is a fact, the emergence of new contextual theologies inescapably raises the question of the possible salvific character of these religions. The FABC has made a pronouncement on this as shall be expressed later in the part dealing with the interreligious dialogue. 

[13] Ibid.

[14] See FABC I, 9-28, in FAPA I, 14-16. For Bevans, these dialogues constitute the entire inculturation process (see Bevans, “Twenty- Five Years of Inculturation”). Cf. James H. Kroeger, “Inculturation in Asia: Directions, Initiatives, and Options,” FABC Papers 115 (2005), http://www.ucanews.com/html/fabc-papers/fabc-115. htm (accessed October 9, 2012).

[15] For details about the handing over of the mentioned Parish and the immediate experience, please refer to my previous Articles.

[16] FABC, Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Dialogue: Recourse Manual for Catholics in Asia, Edited by Edmund Chia, FSC (Bangkok: FABC-OEIA, 2001), P. 102.

[17] Office of Evangelization, “Church Issues in Asia in the Context of Evangelization, Dialogue and Proclamation. Conclusions of the Theological Consultation,” 40, in FAPA II, 202. For more details along this theological line of argument, see Ruben C. Mendoza, Assuming all that is Asian: Becoming a Truly Local Church in Dialogue, p. 10-13. https://www.academia.edu/3805566/Assuming_All_That_Is_Asian (accessed on 2nd December 2020).

[18] Kuan Yin (also written as Guan Yin or Guanyin) is the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion. In the East Asian world, Guanyin is the equivalent term for Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. She was first given the appellation of “Goddess of Mercy” or the Mercy Goddess by Jesuit missionaries in China. Cf. Chun-fang Yu, Kuan-yin, The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 371. The Chinese name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.” On the 19th day of the 6th lunar month Guan Shi Yin’s attainment of Buddhahood is celebrated.

[19] This refers to a mother goddess who represents or is a personification of motherhood.  They are referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother especially when equated with the earth of the natural world. The concept is complementary to a “Sky Father” or Father Sky”.

[20] Chan Wing-tsit, “Kang Yu-wei and the Confucian Doctrine of Humanness (Ren),” in Kang Youwei: A Biography and A Symposium, ed. Lo Jung Pang (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1967), 357.

[21] Kyu-Talk, Sung and Bum Jung, Kim, (eds.), Respect for the Elderly: Implications for Human Service Providers, (Forbes Boulevard: University Press of America, January 2009), pp. 179–216.

[22] Giuseppe Allamano, “This I want You to be”, Missionary Spirituality and Formation, Edited by Father Francesco Pavese IMC and Sister Angeles Mantineo MC (Rome: EMI, 2007), p. 16.

[23] Chan Wing-tsit, “Kang Yu-wei and the Confucian Doctrine of Humanness (Ren),” in Kang Youwei: A Biography and A Symposium, ed. Lo Jung Pang (Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press, 1967), 357. 

[24] Giuseppe Allamano, p. 17-18.

[25] 義 basically connotes a moral sense: the ability to recognize what is right and good; the ability to feel, under the circumstances what is the right thing to do. The value in the act is the rightness of the action regardless of the intention or the consequences of the act; it is close to practicing 仁.

[26] Note that Christianity is not new to Taiwan. The history of Christianity in Taiwan is a long one, extending back to the early 17thcentury when the Dutch traders arrived in 1624.the Dutch missionaries, headed by George Candidius and Antonius Hembrock, did a little evangelizing. The Spaniards attempted to drive out the Dutch in 1627, but were thwarted by monsoons and finally established a foothold in the north. See Ludwig I. Weinrich, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Vol. 37, No. 4. (Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, 1968), p. 339.

[27] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Taiwan (accessed January 6, 2021).

[28] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_Taiwan (accessed January 6, 2021).

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