The Taipei seminary currently has ten seminarians. Evangelisation is important to overcome the lethargy that prevails among Christians in a society taken hostage by secularisation and the desire for wealth and affluence. The goal must be to make young people discover the person of Jesus Christ. Fr Étienne Frécon, a priest with the Foreign Missions of Paris, speaks about his experience.
Taipei (AsiaNews/ÉdA) – The Church in Taiwan shows signs of true vitality, this according to Fr Étienne Frécon, a member of the Foreign Missions of Paris (Missions étrangères de Paris). On the island since 2012, he gives as an example National Youth Day, which is celebrated every year in August. For Fr Etienne, the China-Vatican agreement signed last September has been a source of fear on the island for it could lead to the breaking of diplomatic relations between Taiwan (Republic of China) and the Vatican. In his view, a new missionary push is needed in a secularised society that has been taken hostage by the race for profit. What follows is an edited version of the interview he gave to Églises d’Asie (ÉdA), translated by AsiaNews.
How did Taiwanese Catholics react the new agreement between Beijing and the Holy See?
Taiwan accompanies the Church in China, especially through translations and training ... Many Chinese priests and nuns come to Taiwan to learn, and a number of people from the mainland come for ideas. However, the Taiwanese are looking at the rapprochement between Beijing and the Vatican with real anguish, because they are afraid of being abandoned by Rome. Today, Taiwan has diplomatic relations with the Vatican, even though its diplomatic representative is a chargé d’affaires and no longer a nuncio. [. . .] But whatever happens, I think the Church in Taiwan will continue to help the Church on the mainland, even if they are two very different realities. In Taiwan, we are very free, everything is possible.
How is the Church in Taiwan?
There are real signs of vitality. There are young people who are really motivated, who live off the Gospel and who want to be missionaries. For example, in August, like every year, we had National Youth Day, and this year, the event was driven by the momentum created by Asian Youth Day in Indonesia. Organisers decided for something international and invited several Asian countries to come and take part in the meeting. [. . .]
In my old parish, several young people have founded a group whose goal is to evangelise among young people. They organise many activities inside and outside of schools to attract non-Christian youth and share their faith with them. Of course, there are also signs of dullness, since some communities are very small and often inward looking, with many rules and rituals. Thus, sometimes dynamism and missionary spirit are lacking. We swing a little between these two tendencies, but the missionary field is open wide.
You will take over the Taipei Seminary ...
Indeed! It is an inter-diocesan seminary for the whole island, run by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Taiwan, with ten seminarians. We are a team of four priests from four different countries. I am French. There is a Taiwanese, a Korean and a Chinese from the mainland who spent twenty years in Freiburg. We had no new vocation this autumn. But ten seminarians for 300,000 Christians is quite significant, not so bad. A third of them come from the Diocese of Hualien, the indigenous diocese founded by Bishop Vérineux, of the Foreign Missions of Paris. The others are Han, i.e. Chinese. Vocations come either from traditional Catholic families who have been Catholic for two or three generations, or from converts who became Catholic in their late teens or early twenties, before entering the seminary a few years later.
In this seminary, we have a structure that works. Courses are taught at the Faculty of Theology, but I think there is a great effort to give a missionary impetus to the training of priests, so that it is contagious and challenging for young Taiwanese. This could breathe new life into Christian communities that are small and often old, in need of pastors who can lead them out of their comfort zone. Finally, since we are talking about vocations, I think that, as the person in charge of vocations for Taiwan, it is really a matter of working with those who deal with young people in the different dioceses of the island so that the latter can discover the relationship to Christ. A real dynamism can come from this, which, for some, could lead to the seminary.
Is there a tendency towards secularization?
Yes, I think Taiwan's dullness is also due to that. The Catholic Church developed a lot starting in the 1950s after the arrival of Chiang Kai-shek. Since then, she has experienced real growth, with numbers going from 10,000 to about 300,000. There have been many conversions among indigenous Taiwanese and ethnic Chinese because with Chiang Kai-shek came bishops, priests and missionaries. Thus, the Church has truly progressed. This has also coincided with the island’s economic boom, a period during which many converted. But today we find ourselves with quite old communities because there has not been much renewal.
Economic development and the resulting well-being have slowly led Christians to eschew religious practice. Thus at present, evangelisation and missionary work depend heavily on the newly baptised who have experienced a true conversion when they discovered the figure of Christ.
Converts are the ones on which we can rely for evangelisation in parishes. In fact, in Taiwan, we live well, caught in a kind of dynamic routine around work and the many demands of society, but we do not take the time to develop our spiritual life. And without a spiritual life, it is difficult to hear the call of the Lord.
In fact, we live in a highly secularised society despite the presence of Taoism with its rituals, and to a lesser extent, Buddhism. The race for profit and wealth prevails ... So being Christian and entering the seminary are major gestures. There is a lot of work to do in terms of accompaniment and discernment in order to develop spiritual life in a context that is not very conducive to it.