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Taiwan opens its arms to theological students from China

TAIPEI (UCAN): Taiwan is fast becoming the stop for students from mainland China wanting to complete theology courses.

The Church is currently gearing up to welcome its second influx from across the strait.

Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan said on March 15 that the Church is gearing up to open its arms to welcome them.

“About 30 priests, religious sisters and brothers in their 20s and 30s from mainland China are now studying at Fu Jen Catholic University’s faculty of theology,” the archbishop of Taipei said.

“We’re renovating a hostel to create a dormitory and activity centre for them,” he explained.

The archbishop continued, “Once that is opened, the university can expand its enrollment of Chinese-speaking clergy and sisters even further.”

The influx is the result of two years of planning, involving discussions between the Archbishop Hung and Wang Zuo’an, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs in Beijing.

It is in line with the Taiwanese government decision to open its doors for mainlanders to take higher education courses. The first batch of students arrived in Taiwan last autumn.

It has also been made possible by an agreement of cooperation between the Taiwan government and the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican, which was signed in December last year.

“That agreement means that titles and degrees conferred by the theology faculty will be recognised locally,” Archbishop Hung explained.

A trained educationalist, the 69-year-old bishop was deeply involved in Taiwan in Catholic educational services. He said that enrolling theology students from the mainland will be mutually beneficial.

“We provide them with an opportunity to receive a proper education in theology from the universal Church, while they can be a new force to ease the problem of vocation shortages here,” he said, even if only during summer vacation, as they are not allowed to apply for full time employment.

The increase in theology students is part of a gradual, but upward trend in vocations to the religious life.

“Before 2007, the major seminary had received no new blood for a handful of years, and now there are four,” Archbishop Hung explained.

“When 14 young men joined the archdiocese’s vocation camp last November, we asked each of them to pick their favorite priest,” he said.

“These priests were then given the responsibility of mentoring them and keeping in touch with their families,” he explained, in describing a new programme introduced in the archdiocese.

Archbishop Hung has noticed an encouraging trend in the vocation world.

“As social values have changed, more and more young people prefer to remain single,” he said.

“So the priests’ obligation of celibacy is no longer such an obstacle for Chinese Catholic youth to respond to God’s call,” the archbishop commented.

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