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Belamide Paulino 2009-10-16

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Doing Mission in Taiwan:

The Experience of the Divine Word Missionaries

Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum)

12 October 2009

by Fr. Paulino Belamide, SVD

Compared to the Order of Preachers, the Society of the Divine Word is very much a latecomer to
the Taiwan missionary scene. Divine Word Missionaries (or the SVDs) began in Taiwan only in
1958 – i.e., fifty-one years ago and almost a hundred years after the return of the Dominicans in
1859.[1] Actually, there were already SVDs in Taiwan beginning in 1954, but we consider the
year 1958 our official start because that was when the SVD, through a General Chapter, finally
decided to take on mission work in Taiwan.

In this presentation, I will try to give a general view of SVD history and experience in Taiwan,
touching on such topics as: a) how Taiwan became part of the SVD missionary effort; b) our
vision of the Taiwan mission and how it evolved through the years; c) what we are doing in
Taiwan at present; and d) how we see our future in Taiwan. But, before I go into these, a brief
introduction to the SVD is in order.

Arnold Janssen and the SVD

The Society of the Divine Word was founded in 1875 – that is, 134 years ago -- by St. Arnold
Janssen[2], then a German diocesan priest belonging to the Archdiocese of Muenster. This was
during the height of what became known as the Kulturkampf, when the State (the new German
Empire) under Bismarck, in an attempt to assert its authority over the Churches, in particular the
Roman Catholic Church, introduced a series of laws that restricted severely the activities of
priests, religious orders and Catholic institutions. In other words, this was a very difficult time
for the Church in Germany, a time when “everything seems to be tottering and collapsing”, as
one put it. So, starting something new, such as establishing a mission house, seemed to some at
that time rather ‘mad’ and ‘unrealistic’. However, Arnold Janssen saw things differently. For
him, this was precisely the opportune time, when things were “going to pieces and
disappearing,” to build something new in their place (Bornemann 1978:49).[3]

His proposal for a mission house was really not that novel and crazy an idea, if we consider the
general climate of missionary enthusiasm spreading all over Europe during that period of the 19th
century. He was merely following what others in Europe had already done. As he pointed out
then, “Belgium, Ireland, Italy and France all have mission seminaries; Italy even has four and the
city of Paris alone has five… Germany,[on the other hand], this great country with so many
genuine Christian families, has until now not even one[4]… this situation must be, and can be,
corrected” (Bornemann 1975:44). Let us not say, he further argued, that we have missionary
work enough to do in Germany. The Lord said: Go out to all peoples. These words may not be a
mandate for each individual, but they are directed nevertheless to all large Catholic nations as a
whole (Bornemann 1975:43).

In the end, he won over the skeptics -- perhaps not totally, but enough to get the support he
needed to proceed with his project. But the Kulturkampf meant that he had to go somewhere
else, outside German soil, in order to actually build it. He would settle eventually in a place
called Steyl, a small Dutch village across the border, where until today stand the motherhouses
of the three congregations[5] he founded. By the time Arnold Janssen died in 1909, the Society
of the Divine Word had grown to more than a thousand perpetually professed members (around
400 priests and 700 brothers) and had already spread to the five continents (Bornemann and
others 1981:21).

What sort of spirit, one may ask, drove Arnold Janssen to such single-minded dedication to the
cause of the missions? We believe it was his humble sense of obedience and fidelity to the
command of the Lord to evangelize (cf. Mt 28:19). For him, “to proclaim the Good news is the
first and greatest act of love of neighbor.” If there is one thing that can sum up his missionary
spirituality, it would be this prayer which he handed down to us: “May the darkness of sin and
the night of unbelief vanish before the Light of the Word and the Spirit of Grace. And may the
Heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all.”[6]

The China Mission and the Taiwan Mission

From the very beginning, the Far East or East Asia was on top of Arnold Janssen’s list of
potential mission destinations. He thought that while missions to other places (e.g. the South
Seas) were also necessary, countries with comparatively large populations deserve to be given
priority. His reason: “the number of immortal souls that can be saved is certainly a matter of
great moment” (Bornemann 1975:44). So, when he could finally send out missionaries, he
appointed the very first batch to China. This very first batch, which departed in 1879, was
composed of St. Joseph Freinademetz (福若瑟, canonized in 2003) and John Baptist Anzer (安
志太)[7], who later became a bishop.[8] They and those who came after them worked mainly in
South Shandong, a former Franciscan mission territory handed over to the SVD in 1881. Later,
SVDs would also work in Gansu (1922), South Henan (1923), North Henan (1933), Qinghai and
Xinjiang. In 1933, the SVD would turn a page in its mission to China and take on a big new
task: the administration of Fu Jen Catholic University in Peking which had been under the care
of the American Benedictines since its foundation in 1925.

As we all know, all foreign missionary activity in China came to an end soon after 1949 when
the Communists took complete control of Mainland China and expelled all foreign missionaries.
Most of the expelled SVDs would be reassigned to other provinces of the Society. A few,
however, would relocate later to Taiwan and continue the China mission somehow.

The idea of moving to Taiwan was first brought up already in 1948 by our confreres at Fu Jen
University in Peking who foresaw the end of all SVD activities in China under the incoming
Communist regime (Bornemann 1981:315). However, initially, plans to transfer the university
were rejected, and no appointments to Taiwan of former China missionaries were made,
although many expressed interest. The SVD Generalate in Rome at the time feared that Taiwan
too would fall soon to the Communists (Kuepers 2008).

I should mention that, historically, this was not the first time ever that the SVD considered going
to Taiwan. In 1879, when we were still negotiating for a mission territory and while our two
pioneer SVD missionaries were still in Hongkong waiting impatiently, one of them (Fr. Anzer)
got to meet the Dominican Visitator, Fr. Larroca, who became Master General very soon
afterwards. As Bornemann tells it, “Anzer was convinced that Steyl could easily get Formosa as
its mission field from the Dominicans, or a part of Fukien, with a large port city” (1975:132). But
that was it. Apparently, the matter was never pursued any further.

The move that really initiated the SVD into Taiwan was a request from Bishop Thomas Niu
Huiqing (牛會卿),[9] the Vicar Apostolic of Chiayi, asking for a few priests, especially Fr. Leo
Kade (賈德良, 1903-1981), his former secretary and vicar general when he was the Vicar
Apostolic of Yanggu in Shandong. Rome responded positively and gave him not only Leo Kade
but also two others[10] to accompany him. They arrived in Chiayi in 1954. For a while, Rome
did not want to take a mission territory (Kuepers 2008). It was not until the General Chapter of
1958 that the SVD officially established a missionary presence in Taiwan. Perhaps it helped that
the new superior general elected by this General Chapter, Fr. John Schütte, was himself a former
China missionary. With this development, the SVD was ready to take on long-term commitments
in Taiwan. In 1960, we signed a contract with the Vicariate Apostolic of Chiayi (Bishop Niu)
assuming responsibility for the care of a mission territory within its jurisdiction.[11] At the same
time, in the north, we joined the project to re-establish Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan.
These two major acts, I would say, set basically the two main directions of the SVD mission
work in Taiwan from then on.

Besides the three missionaries mentioned earlier, several others (all Europeans) arrived around
1960. To this group belongs the credit for starting the first SVD parishes in Taiwan – all in the
Chiayi area.[12] To connect with and attract people to the Church, they used various means:
e.g., 1) distributing international relief goods; 2) establishing kindergartens in the villages; 3)
running clinics for treatment of minor illnesses; 4); conducting classes to introduce the Church
and its teachings; and 5) sending interested young people for catechetical training. New
communities of Christians arose as a result of their efforts, and they had to build many churches
in order to accommodate them.

Notable among these pioneers was Fr. Rudolf Frisch who worked among the aboriginal Zou
people in the upland Wufeng (later Alishan) Township of Chiayi County. He was not the first
missionary to penetrate the Zou. The Protestants were there before him. But, apparently, the Zou
preferred Catholic missionaries because they found Catholic teachings more accommodating of
their traditions, and also because of the Church’s reputation for its work among the poor and the
needy in society. For twenty years – i.e., for the rest of his life – Fr. Frisch, or Fu Shenfu, lived
among the Zou, building the local Church (e.g., by training catechists and recruiting vocations),
promoting and supporting the education of the youth, and helping the people attain self-reliance
economically (e.g, through a cooperative). By the time he died (1982), the Zou had produced two
priests (SVDs), two nuns, and fourteen catechists, and had sent to school countless young men
and women of the Zou who would later become community leaders or officials of the local
government. Unfortunately, not all persevered, either in their vocations or in their practice of the
faith. When I worked there in the late 1980s (1987-1991), I met some of these lapsed Zou
Catholics, apologetic at how things turned out for them in relation to the Church, but unanimous
in their admiration of and gratitude to Fu Shenfu, Fr. Frisch, for what he had been and done to
the Zou people.

The early 1960s also saw the arrival of several Chinese SVD priests from the Philippines.[13]
They were former seminarians from Shandong who fled to the Philippines in the aftermath of the
Communist takeover and finished their theology there. After their ordination in 1955, they
worked in the Philippines for a few years before coming to Taiwan. One of them, Fr. Joseph
Chu, established the Fu Jen Catholic Middle School in Chiayi. After them, several young priests
from Europe would also arrive later – e.g., Karl Weber (衛伯安) and Anton Weber (溫安東) –
further bolstering the ranks of SVDs in Taiwan.

In the 1970s, a few more missionaries would come from Europe and, this time, also from the
Philippines, but the numbers were small. Local vocations were very few, which caused some
concern over the long-term prospects of our work in Taiwan.

The Overseas Training Program

Partly to address this issue and partly in response to the emerging possibility of returning to
Mainland China in the hopefully not-so-distant future – this was already the post-Mao period,
and China was liberalizing and opening up to the world -- the China Province introduced in 1980
the so-called Overseas Training Program (OTP). The idea was to invite SVD seminarians
(already in vows) from the other provinces of the Society to do at least two years of language
studies and mission exposure in Taiwan. After the program, the students can either return to their
home provinces or stay and continue their theological studies in Taiwan. The main selling point
of this idea, at least for me when I did the program in 1981-82, was the prospect of going to
China someday. This notion that Taiwan is a preparation for the Mainland was, I believe, at the
back of many foreign confreres’ minds at that time. For our Taiwanese members, however, it
was a rather controversial mindset. I remember an episode in the late 1980s, when a Taiwanese
confrere[14] respectfully protested to the visiting Superior General Fr. Henry Barlage for saying
in effect that Taiwan is a stepping stone to the Mainland. In fairness, Fr. General did not mean
that Taiwan is only that, at least that was my impression. But the point of the Taiwanese confrere
was well-taken, for indeed to suggest that Taiwan is merely that is to betray a less than
wholehearted commitment to Taiwan.

The OTP is still running and is now in its 29th year. So far, more than 70 young SVDs have gone
through the program. About half of that left the Society, and of those who stayed, close to
twenty are currently members of the China Province, working particularly in Taiwan. In general,
the OTP has been a great blessing to the China Province, especially to our work in Taiwan. At
present, all our local superiors in Taiwan and most of those working in the parishes were once
OTP students. Also, the constant presence of young members of various nationalities in our
communities has been an important factor, I believe, in attracting the local vocations that we
have today. There are not that many, but considering the general vocation situation in Taiwan,
we really should not complain too much.

The Taiwan SVD has evolved quite dramatically since it began five decades ago. From being
largely European or of European descent, today, more than half of its members are Asians
(Chinese and/or Taiwanese, Filipinos, Japanese, Indians, Indonesians, and Vietnamese).

Pastoral Ministry


As mentioned earlier, the pastoral ministry of the SVD in the beginning was concentrated in the
rural parishes of the Chiayi County area. However, we also took urban parishes at that early
stage: one in Taipei (Holy Trinity, 1962) and another one in Tainan (St Michael’s, 1964), which
we gave back to the diocese in the 1990s.

For the rural parishes, the industrialization and urbanization that occurred after 1970s was a
disaster for the rural Church communities. People began moving to the cities to find work,
engage in business or pursue an education. The result was decimation of the rural parishes and
the closure of many churches and kindergartens. Working in these parishes could be frustrating
and unrewarding --- or ‘dangerous to one’s vocation’, as some confreres put it -- but the SVD
still maintains these parishes and tries its best to take care of the old people and the few Catholic
families that stayed behind.

The center of the pastoral action nowadays is the city where most people are. To provide newly
arrived missionaries opportunities to get introduced to urban ministry, the SVD decided to take
more and more urban parishes: e.g., Wufeng South Road (St. Joseph’s) in Chiayi, Fengshan
(Christ the King’s) in Kaoshiung, Linkou (St. Benedict’s, 1997),[15] and, most recently, Shulin-
Yingge (Sacred Heart’s, 2004) in Taipei. The Shulin-Yingge Parish serve a multilingual,
multiethnic community composed of Mandarin- and Taiwanese-speaking parishioners, as well as
Amei aborigines and Filipino migrant workers. The present archbishop of Taipei (2007), Abp.
John Hung Shan-chuan SVD, has already appealed a few times to the SVD to take more


Another field of ministry that has become part of our mission in Taiwan is the ministry to the
migrant workers, mostly Filipino workers in the Taipei and Chiayi areas. There was time when
working among the migrants was considered an extra or private apostolate. Or, even a ‘hobby’.
Now, it is even included in the China Province mission statement where it says: “We are
committed to parish ministry, in close cooperation with the local Church, particularly in building
Christian communities, working with migrants, and empowering the laity.

Social Concerns

The SVD in Taiwan is also into certain social service enterprises. One example was the Dehua
Women’s Apartments (德華女子公寓) in Taipei, a housing complex (built between 1968 and
1970) for working women, particularly rural women coming to the city to work or attend middle
school. Run by the Holy Family Sisters, the hostel provided not only a safe place to stay but also
courses (for certain practical skills, e.g., cooking, sewing, etc), social activities and guidance.
However, such type of large-scale housing became obsolete later on and it was closed in 1987
and ultimately torn down. In its place, the SVD built a multi-purpose complex designed to be of
service to the Church and the local community.[16] The result was the One World Community
Service Center (天下一家共融廣場), used for the activities of the SVD-run parish in the area
(Holy Trinity Parish in Dapinglin) and of other groups and communities, and the Genesis
Conference Center (創世紀會議中心) for meetings and conventions that usually last for several
days (often used by local and international Church organizations, both Catholic and non-
Catholic). The community service center, in particular, was conceived to show the Church’s
concern for the local community by offering a venue where people can come together and be
united by common concerns. At present, it offers courses and activities that cater to the local
neighborhood residents, especially the elderly.
Other SVD activity centers still in existence: 1) the Freinademetz Activity Center (1984) in
Alishan, a hostel for tourists and youth groups looking for simple and cheap lodging and
interested to get in contact with the Church; 2) the Arnold Janssen Activity Center (1988) in
Fenchihu, a hostel and activity center for retreats, workshops and for people who simply want to
rest and enjoy nature.

Educational Ministry

Educational ministry, as mentioned earlier, has been a major part of the SVD mission work in
Taiwan from the very beginning. This is most evident in our relatively strong presence within the
campus of Taipei’s Fu Jen Catholic University.

Fu Jen University in Taipei, when it began in 1960, was a federated university run by the three
units that collaborated in founding it: the Chinese diocesan clergy, the Jesuits, and the SVDs. To
each founding unit was entrusted the running of a particular section or group of colleges and
faculties. As it turned out, Liberal Arts went to the Chinese clergy, Business and Law to the
Jesuits, and Natural Sciences and Foreign Languages to the SVDs. (The SVD Section also
included Domestic Science and Nutrition which were given to the SSpS sisters). Also, under the
old structure, the president, the college deans and department chairs came mostly from the ranks
of the clergy and religious.

In 2002, however, this structure was dissolved and university administration was unified under
the Office of the President. The three founding units withdrew from the day-to-day running of
their respective sections and, while some of their members still teach or occupy certain
administrative positions, they have been reduced to essentially advisory or inspirational and
support functions. These changes pose some challenges. For the university itself, the challenge is
how to maintain its identity as a Catholic university. The current president is a lay Catholic and
the Board of Trustees is still composed of Catholics (bishops, priests, religious, and lay), but
with mid- and low-level administration mostly in the hands of non-Catholics or non-Christians,
implementing policies that promote the Catholic character of the university can be difficult. For
those who do mission work in the university, the challenge is how to maintain an effective and
relevant presence.

To address these concerns and to guarantee that the university under the new structure would be
able to continue its mission as a Catholic university, the office of the Vice-President for
Mission[17] was created. Under it are the three mission offices, entrusted to the three original
founding units (the SVD, the Jesuits, and the Chinese clergy), plus the Religious Guidance
Center run by the university chaplain and a team of religious coordinators from each college. The
mission offices supervise all the service programs of the university (e.g., dormitory management,
service-learning, financial aid, etc.), while the Religious Guidance Center takes care of the
campus ministry (e.g., liturgies, catechism classes, and other pastoral and evangelistic
At present, there are still about ten confreres (including myself) in the university payroll working
in various capacities, certainly a far cry from what it used to be. I believe the other founding
units have even less. The question is how long we can keep this presence in the university. The
more senior among us are approaching retirement, and while there are still a few potentially
incoming ones visible in the horizon, landing a university employment today is no longer a sure
thing (as in the days when the founding units could bring in their own people), since everybody
now must go through the same hiring process.

Other Educational Commitments of the SVD

Another educational involvement of the SVD in Taiwan is the Fu Jen Catholic Middle School in
Chiayi, founded in 1962. It is still administered by the SVD and currently has nearly 2000
students. It enjoys a fairly good reputation in the area, not only scholastically but also as a
Catholic institution. Its main concern at the moment is how to attract enough students. With the
declining number of children being born, eventually there will not be enough students for all the
existing schools in Taiwan.

Refocusing our mission

As to the future of the SVD in Taiwan: First of all, I believe that the SVD is fully committed to
its work in Taiwan. But it needs to constantly find new and creative ways of achieving its goals.
At Fu Jen University, for instance, loss of administrative power need not mean marginalization
and irrelevance. As to our parishes, especially the new ones in the cities, they are full of
possibilities for expanding our mission – e.g. deeper involvement in the migrants ministry
(beyond the sacramental), community outreach, inter-religious dialogue, and so on.

Since Vatican II, the SVD has been rethinking its mission. According to the new Constitutions of
the Society of the Divine Word (1983),[18] the SVD mission is to proclaim the Gospel in order to
build local Christian communities (Const. 102). To prepare for this task, the missionary needs to
be able to do three things: 1) pass over from one’s culture to that of the other; 2) learn to
understand and value community life; and 3) listen to and dialogue with different groups of
people. Mission for the SVD today is defined in terms of prophetic dialogue – with the poor and
the marginalized, with people of different cultures and religions, and with faith-seekers, a
dialogue that leads to justice, reconciliation and peace, as well as to the building of Christian
communities that give witness to God’s love and the values of the Gospel, that is, of the Reign of
God that is to come.

In all these, our prayer is that we remain humble and open enough to the Spirit, in the manner
exemplified by our Founder St. Arnold Janssen, so that we may discover the opportune way and
the opportune time to do the things that needs to be done as willed by our Father in heaven.


Bornemann, Fritz. 1975. Arnold Janssen, Founder of Three Missionary Congregations,
1837-1909: A Biography. Manila: Arnoldus Press. The English version has been edited by
John Vogelgesang.

Bornemann, Fritz. 1978 (ed.). Remembering Arnold Janssen: A Book of Reminiscences.

Analecta SVD -52. Translated by John Vogelgesang. Rome: Collegium Vebi Divini.

Bornemann, Fritz and Others. 1981. A History of Our Society. Analecta SVD - 54. Rome:
Collegium Verbi Divini.

Kuepers, Jac. 2008. “Fifty Years of SVD Presence in Taiwan (1958 – 2008).” Unpublished

Nguyen, Hoang-Chuong. 2008. China Link, vol. 16. Taipei: Taishan Formation Community,
Taiwan, SVD China Province.

Ueblackner, Stefan. 2003. Arnold Janseen, Serving the Universal Church. Rome: Societas
Verbi Divini – Society of the Divine Word (Divine Word Missionaries). Online version:

Doing Mission in Taiwan: The SVD Experience - 6

[1] The first Dominicans to set foot in Taiwan (then known to the West as Formosa) came as early as 1626.
[2] Born in Goch, Germany on November 5, 1837; died in Steyl, the Netherlands on January 15, 1909; beatified by
Pope Paul VI in October 19, 1975; and canonized by Pope John Paul II in October 5, 2003, together with Arnold
Janssen and Daniel Comboni.
[3] He also considered the Kulturkampf a potential “blessing in disguise for the pagan foreign mission”. He was
thinking, in particular, of those priests rendered unemployed or unemployable by the new laws who could serve in
the schools or seminaries of the missions, above all in China (Bornemann 1975:43).
[4] Not exactly true. According to Bornemann, he seemed to have overlooked the Holy Ghost Fathers of
Marienstatt in Nassau, Germany (founded in 1863) and the German Jesuits who had been working in the Bombay-
Poona missions since 1854 and 1858 (1975:44).
[5] The other two were the missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS , popularly known as the Blue
Sisters) founded in 1889, and the contemplative Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (SSpSAP,
also known as the Pink Sisters) founded in 1896.
[6] In Latin: “Coram lumine Verbi et Spiritu gratiae recedant tenebrae peccati et nox infidelitatis. Et Cor Jesu vivat
in cordibus hominum!”
[7] Died in 1903 and buried in the German Cemetery (Campo Santo Teutonico) beside St. Peter’s Basilica in
[8] For a detailed account of their departure, see Bornemann 1975:124ff.
[9] An alumnus of the SVD seminary in Yenchowfu (兗州府) and former Vicar Apostolic of Yanggu (Yangku) in
[10] Alois Krieftewirth (紀福泰, 1904-1990) and Alois Tauch (陶賀, 1909-1987).
[11] Included a parish in Chiayi City (Boai Rd. 博愛路) and the five districts of Chungpu (中埔), Chuchi (竹崎),
Dapu (大埔), Fanlu (番路), and Wufeng (吳鳳, later renamed Alishan 阿裡山) townships in the poor southeastern
part of Chiayi County.
[12] Fr. Rudolf Frisch (福禮士, 1899-1982) in Alishan, Fr. Anton Pott (龐德, 1903-1986) in Fenchihu, Fr. August
Theis (台義施, 1900-1975) in Chuchi, Fr. Joseph Irsigler (倪體仁, 1902-1984) in Chukou, Fr. Grimm in Tingliu (英
由義, 1909-1997 ), and Fr. Werner (吳恩理, 1903-1987) in Boai Road in Chiayi City.
[13] Paul Chen (陳錫洵, 1918- ), Joseph Chu (朱秉文, 1920-2007), Aloysius Yang (楊世豪, 1922- ) and Joseph
Liu (劉維和, 1922- )
[14] John Hung Shan-chuan (洪山川), now the archbishop of Taipei and president of the Chinese Regional
Episcopal Conference (Taiwan).
[15] Originally a Benedictine parish, it was later moved to another location and rededicated to St Joseph
Freinademetz in 2006.
[16] The project took nine years to finish (1991-1999). It also includes the quarters of the SVD Dapinglin
Community and the offices of the SVD China Province administration.
[17] Currently held by an SVD, Fr. Michael Kwo Wei-Hsia
[18] Revised by the 15th General Chapter in 2000 and amended by the 16th General Chapter in 2006.