What I’ve found is that the people in each country in the world - and this is particularly true in Asia - are greatly affected by their local culture. This is no surprise, of course, but watching how culture guides the expression of the Catholic faith has been an amazing thing to witness. The great reverence of the Korean people, for instance, was evident when I attended the visit of Pope Francis to Seoul in the summer of 2014. Cultural Japanese elements guide the design of churches throughout Japan. And in Taiwan, elements of traditional and aboriginal culture are inseparable from the expression of faith of the native people.
My present place of assignment is St. Joseph’s Parish, a small parish located high in the mountains of central Taiwan. The village in which the parish is located, Dili Village, is inhabited entirely by 原住民 (yuanzhumin), the native aboriginal people of Taiwan. Although we are located only a few hours outside of the large, modern city of Taipei, being in Dili feels like being in a completely different world.
While Mandarin Chinese is becoming more and more widely used, local tribal languages can still be heard in daily life and continue to be used in weekend and weekday Masses. People freely roam the village and go about daily life, tending their crops of local fruits and coffee. And the Catholic Church is the center of the community life, always packed with people hungry to receive the Sacraments and listen to the Word of God. While the people here have very little personal possessions and resources can be scarce, a definite sense of warmth and welcoming can be felt from the people, and working with them has been a great joy.
Prior to heading overseas, I was excited about beginning a new adventure and meeting new people, yet was most anxious about not being able to provide enough for them or do enough to assist them in their lives. We all have feelings of inadequacy, feelings of fear that when questions arise we won’t have the answers, or when someone asks for help we won’t have the capacity to help them. The cure, I’ve learned here, is a sense of boldness, a sense of confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us and help us when we most need it. We cannot be ashamed of our faith; instead, it is important to learn why we believe what we believe and have the confidence to boldly proclaim these beliefs. In Taiwan, as in Asia and in the rest of the world, people look to the Catholic Church as a place of hope and a place of guidance for their lives. Maryknoll Missioners who dedicate their lives to the service of these people, such as those I have encountered during my two years in Asia, are at the forefront of the Church throughout the world. I pray that Maryknoll continues to heed the Gospel call of serving all of God’s people, and as I return to the US, I do so with an ever-growing trust in God and a confidence that His work will always be accomplished throughout the world.
by Seminarian Peter Latouf, M.M.