02/03/2010, 00.00
TAIWAN
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Chiayi bishop, priests and nuns on bicycle tour to promote faith and vocations

by Annie Lam
Bicycle tour took participants to locations that are significant in the history of the diocese in order to promote priestly vocations among the young. For the diocese’s 12,000 Catholics, there are 31 diocesan priests, 18 religious and 1 deacon. Last year, 400 people were baptised.
Chiayi (AsiaNews) – At least 120 priests and nuns, plus more than 200 lay people, joined Bishop Thomas Chung An-zu of Chiayi diocese, southwestern Taiwan, on a cycling tour to celebrate the Year for the Priests by visiting the “roots” of the Catholic faith in the diocese.

Bishop Chung told AsiaNews that it was the first time the diocese held such activity, whose aim was to evangelise among local residents and promote “much-needed” vocations. Jokingly, the former rector of Taiwan Catholic Regional Seminary said, “Certainly cycling helped our priests and nuns relax and stay in good health”.

Mgr Chung has been the bishop of Chiayi since 2004. His diocese comprises the city of Chiayi, Chiayi County, and Yunlin County. It has about 12,000 Catholics, 31 diocesan priests and 18 religious. Its only deacon will be ordained a priest in April. “The diocese needs many priests,” the bishop said.

The cycling tour took place on 30 January and lasted four hours, covering 15 kilometres. The group of cyclists stopped and prayed at Siluo Church, one of the oldest Christian buildings, then travelled to Shuiwei village in Lunbei, Bishop Chung’s birthplace. Shuiwei has been a Catholic village for more than 100 years. “My family and villagers were very happy to receive the group,” the bishop said.

The group paid tribute to Taiwan’s second priest Fr Li Tian-yi in his hometown. Through photos, they learnt about the “hardships and perseverance of the early days in Taiwan” as well as “ the history of Catholic evangelisation in the villages,” he said. “We hope more young people will discover and choose the religious life,” he added.

Liao Wen-tung, the bishop’s special assistant, told AsiaNews, that about 20 young people joined the group. Almost all the diocesan priests, a number of members from the Society of Divine Word (Verbites) as well as the Congregation of Priests of the Mission, the Sisters of Our Lady of China and Dominican nuns from Chiayi diocese took part in the tour. “It was a special event that laypeople organised for the priests and others to celebrate the Year of the Priests,” he said.

Protestant clergymen and community leaders from Yunlin County were also invited, as a gesture of friendship and exchange with communities outside the Catholic Church, Liao said.

Each bicycle carried a sign in the front saying: “Catholic Chiayi Diocese: Priests’ ‘Iron-horse Ride’, Vocations and Faith-seeking Trip”, drawing attention of passers-by. Several local media reported the unusual event.

Organised by the Chaiyi’s Council for the Apostolate of the Laity, the event also featured the gift of a clerical shirt to each priest to show laypeople’s gratitude and support, council chairwoman Lin Miao-e told AsiaNews.

Bishop Chung said the cycling tour spread the message throughout the diocese that vocations are needed, encouraging each Catholic family to evangelise and foster vocations.

In preparing the 150th anniversary celebration of the evangelisation in Taiwan (1859-2009), which ended last November, the bishop noted that the parishes and Church institutions in Chiayi diocese organised a total of 55 catechism classes for catechumens, and that some 400 people were baptised last year.

The Chiayi diocese was first set up as a prefecture in 1952 and became a diocese in 1962.

The Church is primarily involved in education, medical and social services in Chiayi and Yunlin counties.

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