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Togolese ordained in Taiwan

KAOHSIUNG (UCAN): Inspired by a 19th century missionary to China, Father Joseph Youta Djiba, from Togo, was ordained in Taiwan on February 18 for the Chinese province of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).

Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan, from Taipei, who is a member of the same congregation, ordained the young Togolese at Our Lady of Fatima church in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan.

Archbishop Peter Liu, from Kaohsiung, and Father Frank Budenholzer, the SVD provincial, concelebrated at the ordination Mass.

The Chinese province of the SVDs covers Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and mainland China.

Thirty-four-year-old Father Djiba was born in Togo, the West African country where a quarter of its 7.5 million population is Catholic.

He was working in the parish of Our Lady of Fatima as a deacon prior to his ordination.

Togo was colonised by Germany and later France up until becoming independent in 1960. Catholicism was introduced to his Siou hometown by German missionaries a century ago.

The new priest is the youngest son of a family of eight children. His eldest brother, Father Gregory Djiba, is a priest in the diocese of Atakpame in his own country.

Father Djiba said that he told his parents of his wanting to be a priest when he was 15, but his father rejected the idea, because there was already one priest in the family.

In Togo tradition, the youngest son inherits the wealth of the family, while having the duty to take care of the parents for the rest of their lives.

As a young man, he gave up the idea of priesthood and continued his studies. After graduation, he worked as a secretary in the largest cotton company in the country.

“My boss was good to me and I was well paid. But I was not happy,” the newly ordained priest said, speaking in the Mandarin that he has learned at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan.

“There are many social injustices in Togo. Some people are very rich and some are very poor,” he explained.

“I was an altar server from the age of 10 to 22. I served at many funeral Masses. This prompted me to think about the meaning of life. I wanted to save the world and do good deeds. The most important of all is to save souls,” he recounted.

His university principal, a sister, asked him to think if the secretariat work was what he really wanted to do. He sought counsel from his parish priest and finally decided to follow his brother into the Atakpame diocese.

But within three months he left the diocese to join the SVDs after reading a biography of a missionary to China, Father Josef Freinademetz, from the county of Tyrol, which was then part of the Austrian empire, but now lies on Italian soil.

Father Freinademetz, who first arrived in Hong Kong in 1897 and worked in the Sai Kung area, later moved to eastern Shandong province in China.

With the Chinese name Fu Rouse, he was popularly known as Mother of the Lunan Mission for his pioneer missionary work in Shandong. He died in China during an epidemic in 1908 and was jointly canonised with the founder of the SVDs, Father Arnold Janssen, in 2003.

Currently, there are 5,000 SVDs spread across 70 countries around the world.

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