The event takes place every two or three years, rotating among the island’s seven dioceses. This year's goal is to prepare the faithful for the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest next year. The significant drop in the number of Catholics shows the need for a new evangelisation in Taiwan. Developments in relations between the Vatican and mainland China have modified the ties between the Holy See and the country.
Taipei (AsiaNews/EDA) – Taiwanese Catholics are currently getting ready for their 4th National Eucharistic Congress on 1st March in the Diocese of Chiayi on the same theme as the 2020 Budapest International Eucharistic Congress: ‘All my springs are in you’ (Psalm 87:7).
The meeting in Chiayi is important for all of Taiwan’s Catholics who hope to bear witness to their faith in a country where, despite actual religious freedom, they remain a minority. The Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference (the official name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Taiwan) decided in November 2011 to hold a national Eucharistic Congress every two or three years, rotating among each of the country’s seven dioceses, in order to deepen Taiwanese Catholics’ knowledge of the sacrament of the Eucharist and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The bishops picked the Archdiocese of Taipei for the first National Eucharistic Congress, based on the same spirit as the International Eucharistic Congress, a gathering of lay people and members of the clergy to bear witness to the Christian faith and respond to the call of the Catholic Church to evangelise through Eucharistic adoration.
This year’s 4th National Eucharistic Congress in the Diocese of Chiayi has a twofold objective: to allow Taiwanese Catholics to prepare for the big meeting in Budapest in 2020, and to enable those who cannot go to Hungary to experience the same spirit in communion with the universal Church. In an era where everything is connected, a special website has been set up, with regular updates of the event.
Objective of communion and mission of evangelisation
Citing Pope Francis’s message for Lent in 2018, the bishop of Chiayi, Mgr Thomas Chung An-zu, invited Taiwan’s Catholics to come to "relive the experience of the disciples of Emmaus: Listening to the word of the Lord and nourishing ourselves with the Eucharistic Bread will allow our hearts to blaze again with faith, hope and charity". The Taiwan Eucharistic Congress seeks to embody the privileged role of bearing witness to Christ as the heart of the Church and the saviour of the world.
In his address to Taiwanese Catholics, the bishop of Chiayi also stressed the importance of this Congress for Taiwanese society as a whole, for it ought not to be limited to a meeting among believers but should instead become a springboard towards one’s fellow human beings.
"Faced with many challenges that Taiwanese society has had to meet in recent years, including its ethnic diversity, but also its growing political tensions and social changes, this Eucharistic Congress in Taiwan must offer the power of prayer to the Christian community, united in one heart, with the hope that everyone's goodwill will become a shared force in the service of society and peace in Taiwan."
The Taiwanese Bishops' Conference hopes that such meetings entrusted to the island’s dioceses will be an occasion to offer teachings, testimonies and exchanges, with the aim, as Bishop Chung once again stressed, "of deepening the knowledge of believers of the mystery of the Eucharist, strengthening the faith, encouraging the laity of Taiwan to experience more the Blessed Sacrament,” and “letting non-believers discover the essence of what first and foremost unites the universal Church: the Christ-Eucharist."
A new evangelisation is necessary at a time when the Church in Taiwan is at a turning point, due to the significant drop in the number of faithful caused by an aging population. In 160 years of presence on the island, the Church has contributed significantly to social development, education and assistance, whilst establishing in-depth spiritual training in the parishes.
Although Catholics represent only 2 per cent of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people, the Church is trying to breathe new life in its activity. hence, the bishops proposed in their annual meeting last November a broad look at the situation of the laity and the demographic evolution of the Catholic community on the island. They launched a census by age group and educational level, with the aim of better targeting the measures to be adopted for a new evangelisation, especially among young people.
The National Eucharistic Congress comes at a key moment for the new evangelisation, by preparing lay people for a mission that is not reserved for the clergy alone. Like "sending the People of God to proclaim the Good News, in the final liturgy of the Mass which is not an end but a beginning, [. . .] the National Eucharistic Congress must in turn encourage believers to be responsible for this call to 'evangelisation’."
A pastoral and diplomatic invitation
In October 2018, during his visit to the Vatican for the canonisation of Pope Paul VI, Taiwanese Vice President Philip Chen Chien-jen invited Pope Francis to Taiwan, renewing the invitation made by the bishops during their ad limina visit to Rome. The bishops had invited the pontiff to participate in the National Eucharistic Congress that will open next 1st March. Chen Chien-jen is a key player in Taiwan-Vatican relations because, as a Catholic, he has not hesitated from bearing witness to the need to "feed on the Eucharist", including when performing his vice presidential duties.
However, a pastoral journey by Pope Francis to Taiwan remains highly unlikely because of relations with China. Whilst the Vatican maintains formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name), the Holy See has sought to improve relations and exchanges with Beijing, as evidenced by the historic agreement signed in September 2018 on episcopal appointments.
However, the Vatican is determined not to abandon Taipei. On 5 January, Pope Francis appointed Card Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, as his special emissary to the Eucharistic Congress in Taiwan. As the special papal envoy, Filoni will celebrate the opening Mass of the 4th Eucharistic Congress in Chiayi.
The announcement by the Holy See was welcomed by Taiwanese authorities, for whom such an appointment is a token of the "deep and friendly ties between Taiwan and its diplomatic ally". The island nation is determined to further deepen its exchanges and cooperation with the Vatican "as an important partner in the international community, in favour of religious freedom and good will and peace in the world."