TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — On Sunday (June 18), hundreds of people crowded into Guting’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church for a carnival-type event with stalls and games to celebrate the 44th anniversary of the church.
Located at the intersection of Hsinhai Road and Roosevelt Road, the four-story building looks more like an activity center than a church. This was the original intention 60 years ago when the building was christened the Tien Educational Center on December 8, 1963, after Tien Keng-hsin (田耕莘), the first Chinese cardinal, per the church’s website.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church is just one of eight departments within Tien Educational Center (TEC) (耕莘文教院), which includes a rectory for resident Jesuits, the Ignatian Spirituality Center, the Magis Youth Center, the Taipei Ricci Institute, among others.
When a nearby church was demolished for street-widening purposes, the Catholic bishop at the time asked if the Jesuit’s private chapel within TEC could be used to serve the local faithful. “One of our missions is to go wherever there is the greatest need,” said Father Elton Fernandes, born in Toronto, Canada.
Fr. Elton Fernandes welcomes everyone seeking spiritual solace. (Taiwan News photo)
Fernandes said this is the reason why Sacred Heart is celebrating its 44th anniversary. He said this is also the reason why the building takes on few of the trappings and ornaments of a typical Catholic church.
“You will see very few crosses here because we are open to everyone. We are a place where people can encounter love, and the community can nourish them. You don’t have to be a Catholic to come here. Anyone seeking the ‘meaning of suffering’ can come here,” he said.
On Sundays at 11:30, a diverse crowd of congregants from Europe, Africa, India, and elsewhere come for English-language services. Afterward, many mingle for an informal “Coffee Corner” meet-up, and other events take place throughout the week.
“At the beginning, there were a series of social conditions that led us to open up our facilities to other groups, including some dang-wai (黨外) political activities,” said Tien Educational Center Director, Father Mathew Hsu.
He says the Jesuits continue to offer such resources to everyone in the community. “In modern society, we have a pluralistic culture and different types of exchange, and we continue to support this,” he said.
At one point, Hsu said the center even had a theater facility, but the 921 earthquake badly damaged the structure, and it had to be torn down. It currently remains an open lot adjacent to the center.
Taiwan’s first Jesuit missionary, Father Edward Murphy (1912–2005), arrived after 14 years of missionary service in China. The Chinese Cultural Revolution displaced him, and soon he was followed by other Jesuit priests who took up teaching at National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University, per the church’s website.
Through their work with the two local universities, they were allocated a Japanese-style home to be used as their living quarters (1951–1963). When they were not teaching, Father Murphy and fellow Jesuits would offer services to the local community, such as teaching catechism, baptisms, and spiritual counseling.
Prior to arriving in Taipei, Father Murphy instructed at Nanking University and had been collecting books and money to start a “Nanking Institute” as a training center for university students. He would later utilize the same resources to establish the Tien Cultural Center in 1960 after receiving the approval of Jesuit superiors.
Murphy fundraised and recruited Jesuits from his home mission in San Francisco, later securing enough funding and staff to construct the Tien Educational Center.
The interior of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. (Facebook, Guting Sacred Heart fan page)
Back in the 1960s, the center had the largest collection of English-language books in Taiwan. Furthermore, it was a popular place for private study and spiritual reflection, as well as a place for cultural activities for young people.
The Jesuit religious order, also known as the Society of Jesus (SJ), is known for its loyalty to the Pope and the hierarchy and administration of the Catholic Church. Thus, it was under the direction of the then-bishop at the time that Father Murphy was appointed the first parish priest of Sacred Heart Church in November 1980.
In addition to Father Murphy, Father Herbert Clancy also started offering mass in English at Sacred Heart in the 1980s.
Following the passing of Father Murphy, successive chief parish priests include Father Jose Fontecha (1998–2003), Father Gino Picca (2003–2006), Father Ignatius Hung Wanliu (2006–2012), and Father Michael Ku Tonguk (2013–2017).
Since January 18, 2017, Father Joseph Ngoc Thang Bui has taken over such duties, but he is currently abroad as acting chief parish priest with Father Paul Yeo from South Korea.
For more information about Tien Cultural Center and Sacred Heart Catholic Church, please visit this website.
Source: Taiwan News