A newly elevated cardinal discusses the challenges facing the Christian minority in Taiwan and mainland China
Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi SJ, archbishop of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, received his red hat from Pope John Paul II Feb. 21, making him the fifth Chinese cardinal in the history of the Church. The 74-year-old prelate joins Cardinal John Baptist Wu Chen—Chung, bishop of Hong Kong, and Cardinal Ignatius Gong Pin-mei, bishop of Shaghai, China (living in exile in Stamford, Conn.), in representing the world's Chinese community.
Being the first cardinal from Taiwan in 20 years, his appointment has been taken as an affirmation of the faith of the 300,000 Catholics of Taiwan's mainly Buddhist population. He recently spoke with Register correspondent Joyce Martin in Taiwan.
You have been bishop of two dioceses in Taiwan. What has been your most rewarding experience?
I was bishop of Hualien, on the east coast, for 12 years beginning in 1979. In that diocese, most of the Christians are aborigines; 93% of them are tribal people. They are simple, honest people and not ambitious for material things, but they are quite rich in spiritual things and are close to God. I was very happy there.
Kaohsiung is the oldest diocese in Taiwan, because the missionaries first arrived here. The cathedral there was the first local church in Taiwan.
The number of Christians in Kaohsiung is not very big—only 50,000—but they have a very strong faith. They are united, cooperative, and becoming more and more active in pastoral and missionary work.
Could you provide a brief historical background of the Church in Taiwan?
The Church in Taiwan started more than 300 years ago. At that time, there were a few Spanish Dominican missionaries who came with Spanish soldiers from the Philippines. They worked mainly in the northern part of Taiwan and converted about 4,000 tribal people. Later the Dutch came, captured them, and sent them back to Europe. The mission was interrupted.
The second phase began in 1859. A few missionaries, most of them Spanish Dominicans, came from the Philippines through Amoy to Kaohsiung, where they established the Church. So next year, we will celebrate 140 years.
In 1945, after the end of the Second World War, there were only about 9,000 Catholics on the whole island. Now we have approximately 300,000, divided into seven dioceses.
Today, there are also more than 50 denominations of Protestant Churches. Together they total about 400,000. The biggest denomination is the Presbyterian Church, which makes up half of the Protestants.
The majority of the population are Buddhists, but I would not say they practice “pure Buddhism.” Buddhism here is often mixed with Taoism or with other religions. Real, pure Buddhists are very few in number.
What are the strong points of the Catholic Church in Taiwan?
The Catholic Church here is small, but lively. At a time when there is a worldwide crisis in vocations, we have more than 100 major seminarians in Taipei. There are also many baptisms every year—men, women, and children.
We have two [Catholic] universities, one junior college, 47 high schools and professional schools, a dozen big hospitals, around 30 homes for the aged, and 30 centers for the retarded. There are also numerous clinics in remote areas to assist aborigines.
The Church is very concerned about migrant workers as well. In my diocese, we have three full-time chaplains who take care of migrant workers. There are also many other charity organizations. To deal with the problem of inculturation, there are also recreational and cultural centers, such as the Ricci Institute and the Cardinal Tien Center, that teach the Chinese language.
Another strong point is that, nowadays, there is more lay participation in the Church.
What are its weak points?
Right after World War II, when the communists took over mainland China, many priests who were expelled from the continent arrived here. Because they could not go back to their homeland they stayed here. So, about 34 years ago we had 1,100 priests who were in their 30s and 40s—the best time for apostolic, missionary, and pastoral work. We still have about 700 priests, but 400 of them are over 70 years old, and only 150 are under 60. That is our weak point; we do not have enough priests.
Also, most of our Catholics are new converts. Their faith is not very strong as yet, and not yet deeply rooted. Athird point is that the Taiwanese overemphasize the material aspects of life, so that apostolic work and conversion are not very easy.
What are the present challenges of the Church and society?
As the result of urbanization, many young couples now have their own jobs, and many families are separated. Our society has enjoyed material well-being, but there is a need to promote ethics and morality. Taiwan faces one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Children grow up without experiencing the love of a family, and adolescents who come from broken homes get into trouble.
We also need to help the less fortunate, like the elderly. Yesterday in my homily, I asked other religions to promote a spiritual renewal in the society; to raise up not only material standard of living, but also to pay attention to spiritual personal and moral ethics.
What is the Taiwanese Church doing in the area of interreligious dialogue?
We have good and friendly relations with the other religions. At a recent reception [upon my being made a cardinal] at the Grand Hotel, all the religious leaders were present. With the Protestants, we discussed ecumenism. There is the National Council of Churches of which the Catholic Church was a founding member, and I was its first president. There is also the Association of Greater Religions with 13 members, one of which is the Catholic Church.
Two years ago in Taiwan, we had the first international dialogue between Christians and Buddhists. Each year, we conduct a “living-in dialogue” with different religions—with Taoists or Buddhists and others. Fifty Catholic and 50 Buddhist families live together for three days, exchanging experiences concerning family problems.
What is the current relationship between the Patriotic Church and the Clandestine or Underground Church in China?
The Patriotic Church was created by the government while the members of the Clandestine Church do not want to follow the government's policy of denying the primacy of the Holy Father.
I believe that most people who are in the Patriotic Church want, in their hearts, to be united with the Pope, to be united with the Church. But under the present conditions, they cannot do so.
Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi SJ
Personal: Age 74; native of Puyang Hopei (mainland China)
• 1955 ordained at in Baguio, Philippines
• 1979 consecrated bishop of Hualien (Taiwan)
• 1991 appointed archbishop of Kaohsiung March 4
• 1998 elevated to cardinal by John Paul II in Rome
Background: President of the Commission on Evangelization of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference; secretary for the Asian Bishops' Synod in Rome April 19-May 15, 1998.
Episcopal motto: Restore everything in Christ (Ep 1:10).
There are speculations—just speculations—that one of the recent cardinals in pectore is Chinese. The Pope did not announce their names so as not to cause them any inconvenience. This was the case of Cardinal Gong Pin-mei of mainland China who was only openly declared cardinal in 1991 when he had to go to the United States for medical treatment.
What is the role of the Church of Taiwan toward the Church in mainland China?
The Holy Father gave us a mandate in 1984 to be a “bridge Church” between the Church in China and the universal Church, because the Church in China is living in a very special situation now: it is not free in its contacts with the Church outside the country. So we have to promote communion of the local Church with the universal Church.
The Vatican is the only state in Europe that maintains diplomatic ties with the Republic of China. However, there has been speculation that the Pope named a cardinal from Taiwan as “compensation” for the Vatican's rumored consideration of switching diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Peking. Could you comment on this?
My nomination is a purely religious affair. It did not involve politics.
What is the significance of your appointment coming just before the third millennium? Do you think it is a timely event?
The Holy Father is very much concerned about the Chinese Church because, in China, the Church is still persecuted and the Church in Taiwan is still very small. He wants the Chinese people to play a very important role in the third millennium. The Chinese population is so big: one fourth of the world population is Chinese. It is very natural that the Holy Father shows his love and concern for them. When the Pope spoke of the Chinese people, he repeated: “Great! Great!” He would like the Chinese people to contribute to world peace and not to catastrophe.
My being named cardinal at the end of this century means that the Church in Taiwan has to play a very important role and also to pay attention to missionary work towards other Chinese communities in diaspora as there are many Chinese people abroad.
What was your reaction to your nomination as cardinal?
I do not consider this a personal honor or personal gain. Many others are more deserving of this honor. Religious freedom has been granted in Taiwan, the Pope has recognized this and has chosen me to represent the people of Taiwan in receiving this honor. It is a sign that the Holy Father is concerned about China and the Chinese people. I think that the Holy Father is also encouraging the Church here to do more evangelization.
You are president of the Commission for Evangelization of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference. What are the challenges of evangelization in Taiwan now?
We are now actively preparing the national symposium with the theme, “New Century, New Evangelization.” We started two years ago and hopefully the symposium will be held in the year 2000 to prepare the Church to meet its needs in the new century—how to evangelize in the new century. Taiwan needs more missionaries because we are living in a mission country. Most are not Christians and the Christians have the responsibility to bring the Good News to others.
Recently you celebrated a Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit in keeping with the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. What signs of the Holy Spirit do you see and expect from this year?
We pray in the hope that the Holy Spirit may spark a fervent desire in the hearts of the Christians here to evangelize and bring the Good News to their neighbors; and to influence the society here with the Gospel.
We can already see signs of the Holy Spirit working. Our laypeople are waking up and many have already started to evangelize. There are many centers training laypeople to be better evangelizers. We also see older and retired persons who also want to do something for God. They want to offer their life and energy for God's work.
You have been chosen as secretary of the Asian Synod of Bishops in Rome next month. What do you expect from this encounter?
This Synod will include the whole of Asia—from the Middle East to Siberia. It is a huge continent. We know the bishops from East, Southeast, and South Asia. But we do not know the bishops from the Middle East, Siberia, or former Russian Asian Republics. During the Synod, we will get to know all of them.
This Synod will bring greater fraternal solidarity, mutual aid, and understanding. As a whole, we can try to solve some of the common problems in Asia.
As the Holy Father said, it was during the first millennium that Christianity spread in Europe and to some parts of Africa. In the second millennium, Christianity spread to a new continent—the Americas. In the third millennium, Christianity should spread in Asia. Except for the Philippines, all the other countries have not yet been evangelized. There are very few Christians in China, Japan, India, and in other countries. We still have much work to do for evangelization. I hope that through this Synod, we may renew our missionary zeal.
The central theme is that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and his mission is one of love and service to Asia. We hope that more and more Asian people may know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. His mission is to bring life to the Asian people—abundant life.
Jesus Christ is not a foreigner. He is an Asian. He did not come to conquer but to love and to serve the Asians. Being Christian and being Chinese are not two separate things. You can be a good Christian and a better Chinese. There is no contradiction.
Did you always want to become a priest?
In the beginning at elementary school, I wanted to become a doctor because I saw a neighbor die of appendicitis without any medical treatment during the Sino-Japanese war. In high school, I saw the damage done by drought in China. Then I wanted to be involved in agriculture and irrigation to solve the problem of the farmers.
Finally, in a country that did not find peace after the Sino-Japanese war, I decided to be a priest. I was inspired by many good priests and their example. I only want to be a good Jesuit, to lead young people and lead other people to do good things in the society.
If you were to address a message to Churches in the United States, what would it be?
The American Church has always been very generous by sending out lots of missionaries. I hope that the Church will continue to do so and help many young Churches in the other countries.