Dear Columban Friend,
With assistance from our generous Columban benefact
ors, earlier this year Fr. Larry Barnett began renovation on the TianGou village church which was in need of significant repairs. One Sunday morning, Fr. Larry and the Catholics of TianGou village entered the church and stepped into a sea of rain water pooled on the floor!
At 900 feet above sea level, TianGou is the highest of the eight villages that make up our Columban parish along the DaAn River in the central mountains of Taiwan. The people are Taiwan aborigines of the Atayal tribal group, the second largest on the island, and have a culture distinct from the majority ethnic Chinese. They suffer social disadvantages as a result. At the same time, Taiwan’s aborigines are almost entirely Christian and make up at least a third of all Taiwan-born Catholics. The people of the village, 53 families, are equally Catholic or Presbyterian, and we enjoy good ecumenical relations.
The water problem was really a roof problem caused by earthquakes and typhoons over many years. The original chapel was built more than fifteen years ago with a wrap-around addition that tripled the size of the building and included a toilet and sleeping quarters added a few years later. The seal between the two parts of the building had weakened to the point where, in heavy rain, water poured through the light fixtures onto the floor. On several occasions, Fr. Larry conducted Mass barefoot!
Something had to be done. We mended the roof but, one year and $500 later, we still had leaks in heavy rain. Finally, we decided to replace the entire roof, remove all interior pillars and walls, move the main entrance and re-orient the church on the long axis rather than across that axis. The new building is higher and brighter than the original. We have produced large Stations of the Cross for the walls, sanded back the existing pews and re-varnished them. Grandma BuOh, one of the Catholic elders of the village, is hand-weaving two lengths of cloth which will be framed and hung either side of the wooden crucifix on the sanctuary wall above the altar. Grandma JiWas has given several lengths of her own hand-woven cloth to hang below the tabernacle, statue of Our Lady and ambo.
The local people are very proud of their new church, and we are particularly grateful to all who have been generous in helping us with the project. The renovations were completed during Lent, and the new church was blessed at the Easter Vigil. The ceremonies began with the new fire at the home of the village chief at one end of the village and, after processing with lighted candles, we carried the light of Christ into the new church at the other end of the village. The long liturgy over, we enjoyed a meal produced by the women of the village, including local specialties such as fresh bamboo-shoots and salted raw pork.
We can’t stop earthquakes or the rain but we have stopped the leaks and produced a fine place of worship for the village Catholics. However, Fr. Larry mentioned that he would still occasionally say Mass barefoot, no longer out of necessity but out of reverence for the ground on which he stands with the Atayal people.
Gratefully yours in Christ,