President Ma meets foreign Catholic missionaries active in Taiwan
President Ma Ying-jeou met on the afternoon of September 12 with foreign missionaries from the Catholic Church who provide service in Taiwan. The president, on behalf of the government and people of the ROC, expressed appreciation for their contributions to the people of Taiwan.

In remarks, President Ma stated that Catholic priests and nuns have come to Taiwan from all over the world, embracing the spirit of compassion of Jesus. They have left their families in distant lands to provide services to the people of Taiwan tirelessly, he said. The president pointed out that some priests and nuns have dedicated over 30 or 40 years of their lives to serving the community here, leaving a trail of impressive deeds that have touched many.

In discussing the relationship between the Catholic Church and Taiwan, President Ma noted that the ROC and the Vatican have maintained diplomatic relations for over 70 years. However, ties between the Catholic Church and Taiwan can be traced back to 1626 when the first Spanish Dominican missionary in Taiwan Bartolome Martinez and others established the first church on Heping Island in modern-day Keelung City, he said. In addition, the president noted, according to the documents from the Taiwan Catholic churches, the Dominican friar Fernando Sainz and Rev. Angel Bofurull arrived in Taiwan in 1859 to spread the gospel. They made their way to all corners of Taiwan and established five missionary centers. This created a strong foundation from which the Catholic Church would subsequently spread the gospel throughout Taiwan, he commented.

President Ma noted that at present Taiwan is home to 724 Catholic churches, 33 religious orders for men, and 62 religious orders for women, with altogether over 2,000 members of the clergy. The president said that the assistance provided by many of these orders has enabled the Catholic Church to establish six colleges and universities, 30 high schools, 11 elementary schools, and 155 pre-elementary schools throughout Taiwan. He added that the Church has played a crucial role in the establishment of countless social welfare groups and hospitals and clinics, making enormous contributions to education, health care, and social welfare here.

The president mentioned that he lived in the Wanhua District of Taipei when he was growing up and often accompanied his grandmother to a Catholic church on Xiyuan Road to listen to sermons by Father Remi Van Hijfte. President Ma said that Father Van Hijfte, who was Belgian, was extremely learned and friendly to everyone, which made a deep impression on him. At the time, he said, the Church provided items such as butter, flour, corn flour, old clothes, and other relief items to many people in need throughout Taiwan.

President Ma told the visitors that since entering public service he has come in contact with even more priests and nuns silently providing service all around Taiwan. For instance, Rev. Istvan Jaschko has established clinics and hospitals for the underprivileged in Chiayi County, along with centers to aid in the development of individuals with mental disabilities. Meanwhile, Sister Therese Thong runs Good Shepherd Social Welfare Services, providing opportunities to women and children. Sister Joan Ann Barrett, who is now over 80 years old, still provides service at the Lauwulau Home for the Elderly in Tainan City, while members of the Bethlehem Mission Society have for decades provided service to communities in remote areas of Taitung County, he said. The president expressed his deepest appreciation to these clergy members for all that they have done for Taiwan.

President Ma stated that in March 2011 he met with priests and sisters from the Bethlehem Church from Switzerland who had provided over 40 years of service to communities in Taitung. At the time, they mentioned that even though they had lived in Taiwan for decades, they still did not enjoy the same level of social services as those available to Taiwanese citizens. In response, the president said he immediately instructed the Ministry of the Interior to draft measures, which three months later were introduced as the Mackay Project. Under this initiative, foreign clergy who are 65 or older and have served in Taiwan for over 20 years will be allowed to take planes, trains, boats, or buses for either half price or for free. In addition, they will also be eligible for preferential treatment from social service organizations. President Ma commented that this was an expression of the government's respect and appreciation.

The president also mentioned that Taiwan once received assistance from other nations, but now that its economy has developed, it has the ability to provide assistance to others. He said that Taiwan, in accordance with the principle of "love thy neighbor as thyself" as set forth in the Bible, has transformed itself from an importer of compassionate assistance to an exporter of such. For instance, the president pointed out, the people of Taiwan provide financial sponsorship to some 230,000 underprivileged children throughout the world, which is equivalent to 1% of Taiwan's population. In addition, he said, Taiwan is actively involved in international humanitarian relief work. In 2010, for example, Taiwan provided relief to Haiti after that nation suffered a devastating earthquake, and it has donated over 200 permanent homes to date. Also, the government and people of Taiwan donated US$220 million (NT$6.6 billion) to the relief effort in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. Taiwan provided more assistance to Japan after that disaster than any other nation, and the people of Japan to this day are extremely appreciative.

President Ma stated that Catholic priests and nuns illustrate perfectly that "compassion knows no borders." Their contributions have had far-ranging impact on Taiwan, he said, adding that the government will continue to work with the Catholic Church and other charitable groups to jointly promote social welfare and relief work, thereby creating greater wellbeing for the people of Taiwan.

The delegation of over 100 individuals was led by Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan (xst) of Taiwan (the president of the Chinese Regional Bishop's Conference), and the Vatican's Charge d'Affaires a.i. Monsignor Paul Fitzpatrick Russell to the ROC to the Presidential Office to meet President Ma. Also attending the event were National Security Council Advisor Francis Yi-Hua Kan (̶h~), and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Vanessa Yea-Ping Shih (vȥ).

From: Office of the President, 2013/09/12