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Fire in Taiwan’s oldest church

TAIPEI (UCAN): A man with a history of mental illness has been arrested for setting a wooden statue of Our Lady on fire in the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the small town of Wanjin, the oldest church in Taiwan.

Video footage of the August 3 incident led police to arrest a suspect named Pan on the following day.

Local media reported that Pan admitted to the act of vandalism, saying the Virgin Mary was his wife.

Father Anselm Hsu from the 140-year-old church in Kaohsiung archdiocese, said, “I have seen this man several times before as he lives nearby. The police have to investigate further even if Pan has admitted his crime. It is lucky that only the clothes of the statue and the spotlight were burned and no one was harmed.”

Father Hsu said it creates a dilemma, as security in churches is not compatible with reaching out to the people and four to five busses bring people to the historic church every day.

The church is also a popular location for couples, including non-Catholics, for wedding photos.

Located to the left side of the altar, the 60-year-old wooden statue stands on a sedan and it is used during processions on important feast days.

“After the forensic investigation is completed, we will replace the statue’s featured clothes. We will repaint the surface, which got burned and turned black from the fire,” Father Hsu said.

Catholicism was introduced to Wanjin in 1861 and a church built two years later. In 1869, Father Francisco Herce bought a plot of land in the town to build a new church, which is now the minor basilica.

The Spanish-style building was consecrated on 8 December 1870, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II established the church as a minor basilica and the Interior Ministry of Taiwan named it as a county relic the following year.

Wanjin has a Catholic population of 3,000. It is the only predominately Catholic town in Taiwan.

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