Taiwan is getting ready to welcome an influx of theology students from across the strait in mainland China, a move which has been hailed by the president of the bishops’ conference.
“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,” said Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan of Taipei, “and we’re renovating a hostel to create a dormitory and activity center for them.
“Once that is opened, the university can expand its enrolment of Chinese speaking clergy and nuns even further.”
This development was instigated two years ago, after discussions between the archbishop and Wang Zuo’an, director of China’s state administration for religious affairs.
It is in line with the Taiwan government’s decision to open its doors for mainlanders to take higher education courses there. The first batch of students arrived in Taiwan last autumn.
It has also been enabled by an agreement of cooperation between the Taiwan government and the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which was signed in December.
“That agreement means that titles and degrees conferred by the theology faculty will be recognized locally,” said Archbishop Hung.
The 69-year-old prelate, a trained educationalist who was deeply involved in Taiwan’s Catholic education service before becoming a bishop, said 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. (However, he did note that the mainland students would only be able to assist in Taiwan parishes during their holidays; as the current legislation stands, mainlanders are not allowed to seek full-time employment after graduation.)
The increase in theology students is part of a gradual but distinct upward trend in vocations. “Before 2007, the major seminary had no new blood for a handful of years and now there are four,” said Archbishop Hung.
The archbishop has also introduced some fresh innovations to the process of formation. “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 are then given the responsibility to mentor them and keep in touch with their families.”
The archbishop has noticed a trend that may help increase vocations even more. “As social values have changed, more and more young people are preferring 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 calling.”
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