It was a Sunday morning. I was turning the pages of my Mandarin Chinese prayer book looking for suitable prayers for the dead. I was in one of the eight villages of our parish in the Dabaijian mountains in Taiwan.
I had already said Mass in a nearby village. There I received a message that the parish catechist’s mother had been taken to hospital that morning and had been pronounced dead from cancer. I was asked to come to the catechist’s village after Mass so that I could meet and pray for her.
I didn’t wait for a meal with the villagers after Mass but drove straight to the catechist’s village. A short time later, while I was still trying to prepare, the ambulance arrived. The old ladies in the village were crying as the body was carried into the house and laid on the bed. As I sprinkled the body with holy water and began the prayers for the dead the catechist’s mother opened her eyes and moved.
I was shocked. I was lost. I was confused. Everyone else was shocked too. “What prayer should I be saying now,” I thought, as I stopped the prayers for the dead. “Something simple would be best” was my next thought as I tried to shift gears in Chinese. I started the Our Father and the Hail Mary. The old ladies had stopped crying. I saw shock change into hope in the family members’ faces. Someone thought of giving her water. The rest of the villagers continued saying the rosary with me.
The old lady must have been in a coma. Still, it was strange for the hospital authorities to declare her dead. She lived on for another week but then passed from this life.
The Ups and Downs of Mission Work
I know the catechist well. He is the only catechist in the parish. He gives instruction on the Sacraments to the children. He visits the people. He also advises us priests about aspects of the culture and of politics. We have to be careful with politicians offering money to the Church. We have to ensure that it is made as a donation to the Church and receipted accordingly so that we priests cannot be accused of any wrong doing.
“What prayer should I be saying now,” I thought, as I stopped the prayers for the dead. “Something simple would be best” was my next thought.
Much of my work is ordinary parish work. I visit the homes and the sick in hospitals. I say Mass on Saturday evening in one village and on Sunday morning in another village. People from nearby villages are expected to attend. Actually, I was very disappointed when I first arrived in the parish to see that only about ten or fifteen people, almost all women, were attending Mass. I compared this with the full churches and fine singing in Fiji. But many of these ladies have strong faith and really pray from the heart.
At Christmas, all of the 170 families from the eight villages come to the parish center and celebrate the feast. They exchange gifts. After Mass the community spends the whole day together enjoying games, dancing and raffles. Each village presents an item.
Previously, the priest used to go around knocking on peoples’ doors on Saturday reminding them to attend Mass the following day. But Fr. Larry, my Columban colleague, and I decided that people should come to church because they wanted to and not because of pressure from the priests. But there is an old man here who often says to us that the men don’t come to Mass because we priests are not knocking on their doors!
I Love the Work
The women here are the backbone of the Church. I have made good friends among the more committed families. Many of the women in one of the villages, who became Catholics after marriage, are fine singers. I love to go there and play my guitar when they sing together after Mass or a prayer meeting.
I like working in Taiwan. The culture is quite relaxed – different from the city-dwelling Chinese. The people live for the present. They greet you in a friendly way as you pass on the road. They are hospitable. But I have to avoid getting complacent, and I need to keep trying to approach the work with enthusiasm and faith.
Originally from Fiji, Columban Fr. Taaeremon Matauea lives and works in Taiwan.