Being Missionaries in Taiwan

We present contributions from the Xaverian community in Taipei (pp. Fabrizio Tosolini, Innocent Munandi, and Joe Matteucig). The three brethren thought it best to share the reflection personally without trying to create a common presentation – reflection. We hope that this ‘format’ will be more helpful. This blog was taken from the general website of the Xaverian Missionaries.

Doing mission work in Taiwan: my experience

I believe that the sociocultural situation in Taiwan is very similar to that of Western societies, with one difference: what is being destroyed by the multi-media culture is a world with its tradition, which has not been widely influenced by Christianity, as was the case in Europe or the Americas. It is true, however, that multi-media culture is also destroying Taiwan’s brief Catholic tradition. The multi-media bombardment physically removes the mental space for other cultures and thoughts. In this context, we are forced to return to the theological and spiritual foundations of mission, rediscover the typical methods of propagating Christian experience, and believe in those, even if they do not seem to bear immediate fruit. It is like when the desert advances: the plants can only seek deeper water, resist and try to grow with their life and multiply in the face of advancing death.

I realized this only gradually and progressively discovered how to live and grow in this situation.

In the beginning, 25 years ago (1997), I used to say to myself, ‘Other than a missionary explosion! An implosion is taking place; I must become the missionary to myself’.

The parish did not need me, so I had to look for ways, my ways, to somehow communicate the faith: the many channels of the mission. One somewhat ‘official’ way was and is Bible teaching in the Faculty of Theology. This gave me an identity, which is necessary here. It allowed me to meet many people and create relationships, which slowly matured. However, this is an indirect mission because I meet the most pious Christians in Taiwan.

Another avenue has been somewhat unexpected, painting. I found that paintings ‘speak.’ They speak continuously for decades and can build people’s faith. They also provide opportunities for encounters, collaboration, and formation. All this helps enrich the Church’s life, making it more attractive. Beauty speaks of God.

In addition, I have learned to give importance to all encounters with people. In every moment, they become a ‘harvest’ to be gathered. Each meeting is an opportunity to develop friendship and fraternity. This is already an occasion to let them taste Gospel.

A step further is the preparation for Baptism, or in a more general way, the accompanying of people on their faith journey. It was and is a school, a pressing invitation to grow in holiness.

I saw a ‘continuum’ between what we think of as life within the Christian community and what we experience outside our communities. It is a unique reality. The missionary outcome is intimately linked to the intensity of community life. By living true and deep relationships of unity in the name of the Lord, we learn to create the same relationships with others. These enter the Church when they find a home and find themselves loved in their uniqueness. The same is true for vocations.

Reflecting from the outside on the problems before us, I believe that in Taiwan, we fail to create or to insert ourselves in situations that structurally allow us to continually meet many people for qualified interactions, such as being engaged in a school. Finding some gold flaskes requires sifting through a lot of river sand. Unfortunately, we only stay close to Brooks and don’t know how to find larger rivers.

Fabrizio Tosolini, left

Our mission

In his writings, Pope Francis reminds us that reality is more significant than ideas. This is how I can define our presence here in Taiwan. Rather than an idea, it is a reality we discover daily and must deal with without too much pretense.

Our Xaverian presence in Taiwan is ‘out of the ordinary’ compared to all our other presences in the different circumscriptions. I had to get here to understand and deal with the reality. I came from a fully Catholic environment. The Catholic faith is lived out daily through regular participation by the faithful in the celebrations. They have great devotion leading them to assume specific responsibilities in the parish, the various services at the parochial level, in the CEB, etc. Let’s say I come from an environment with a certain vivacity in the faith. All this encourages and allows one to continue expressing what one is and believes in.

The situation seems different to me in Asia, specifically Taiwan. Being a Christian or a Catholic is not a matter of crowds, much less of family. It can be a matter of personal, not to say individual, choice. On an individual level, this way of living one’s faith becomes a major challenge for the missionary. How to proclaim without offending? How to proclaim without expecting one’s voice to be the most heard/broadcast among many other voices? Is ‘your God’ one among many? Is Paul’s unknown God at the Areopagus relevant in this part of the world?

Here is where our whole future, not to say our mission, is at stake. Unable to copy other models of presence in the world we find ourselves in, our choice led us to rethink our presence in Taiwan. Realizing that here the Christian elements that sustain our faith, which we shared from the beginning, namely in our families of origin, are absent, we have adopted a well-defined model that helps us carry out our missionary service—mission as friendship.

Over time, the Xaverians in Taiwan have appropriated this model to sustain their presence. At the same time, they have found other ways to focus and maintain their ministry and identity in this part of the world. Friendship enables the Xaverians to convey the Good News to their Taiwanese friends. Through this model, we carry out our various activities with the goal and mission of bringing Jesus to others. Whether in education, youth ministry, charity, health ministry, etc., we cultivate friendship everywhere. This interpersonal relationship becomes the spearhead for bringing the Good News to others.

Finally, only when the Xaverian community recognizes its fragility, being in a different environment from its own, the language that is not its own is called to resort to the reserve that is not its own. This reserve is faith in the God of Jesus Christ. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we find our Christian identity and pass it on to others. Prayer and sacramental life become the pillars that lift us whenever we feel discouraged, despairing, or begin to look elsewhere. To the holy missionary, holy will be the parishioners, said the Saint Curé of Ars. We wish each other well.

Fr. Innocent Munandi, sx

Our mission in Taiwan

Looking back, we have been present and serving the Church and the people of Taiwan since 1990. Where did the time go? Looking back, I believe the Chinese proverb we have heard since our first arrival continues to be true: “A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.” After 30 years of presence, I often feel we are still taking our first steps. The journey of the mission is still at the beginning, yet over the years, we reached a consensus and focused on certain attitudes, values, and areas in syntony with our Charism.

Being a small community located in Taipei, we are and continue to present ourselves as a missionary community. We saw and continue to see the mission as a family and community event. We regularly meet for prayer and reflection, discussing and sharing projects, activities, and plans. All is on the table, and there are no hidden agendas. We live a simple lifestyle (shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing, etc.). We are known as a community marked by a keen sense of hospitality; our door is always open. We are very much appreciated because we do not have “power or position,” we see mission as a collaborative effort: with our parishioners, our friends, and the local Church. We are conscious that our presence depends on people supporting, helping, and encouraging us daily. We are not alone.

Because of this, we have fostered a pastoral style based on friendship, collaboration, and shared responsibility. Personal relationships are facilitated by who we are. Privileged is a one-on-one approach. Hopefully, we can duplicate the “teacher–disciple” approach so dear to the Chinese cultural milieu.

At the parish level, the parish is truly a family (make of the world a single family) where all share and contribute out of their means (faith, time, talents, expertise, money, etc.) Chinese culture and the reality of the world around us humble us. Therefore, it is a given for us to rely on our friendships and connections to answer some of the challenges we face (Church material, maintenance, economic and legal affairs, for example).

Because of friendships, many doors have been opened over the years. These have brought us in contact with the lived reality of the world around us. Collaboration: with the sisters of Mother Theresa; Life Education National Program; Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program at the Local Catholic Hospital; Ecumenical programs together with the local Presbyterian Church; Lay Archdiocesan Catholic Lay Center; Collaboration with a Buddhist Monastery for food distribution…

Living mission as a community event (we have always been three, sometimes four confreres) has enabled us to be available and to answer pastoral requests coming from various quarters: availability for weekday and weekend ministry to parishes and religious communities, especially the Carmelites; Christmas and Easter in QuBing mountain village in Central Taiwan and Kaohsiung – WenZao University Southern part of Taiwan; retreats and days of recollection, to name a few.

Last but not least, our involvement in education – formation, whether formal (Teaching Bible Studies and languages at the Bellarmine Theological School, participation in the Life Education National Program, RCIA program at the Local Catholic Hospital) or informal (parish-based bible study groups and parish RCIA program)

All my involvements (within and without the community) aim to facilitate the encounter between the person and Jesus Christ. This encounter, strengthened by a faith community, motivates each to live the choices and values of Jesus Christ. This is my hope!

Fr. Joe Matteucig

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