Ma Ying-jeou, the President of Taiwan, led a team to the Vatican City to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Franciscan Pope. He frankly admitted his connections with the Catholic Church on his Facebook page, and expressed his pleasant sentiments towards his childhood life at Church in between the lines.
Ma Ying-jeou expressed that he received much kindness from the Catholic Church. He said that in the 1950’s Taiwan, attending Church had both spiritual and material meanings.
Ma Ying-jeou recalled the childhood times when he was living in Wan-hua. Every Sunday, he would follow his grandmother to attend mass and confession, and to receive milk powder, butter, flour and so forth at a nearby Catholic chapel near Xi-yuan Road. Besides, although he was young, the reverence and sacredness of the Church environment and Father Remi Van Hijfte’s friendliness and vast knowledge had left him with vivid memories.
Ma Ying-jeou also mentioned his university life of learning French from Father Yuan Bing-yi, and practising English conversations with the Sister Annmarie. Even after becoming a government official, he was able to visit the various Catholic Churches in Taiwan.
Among these, Jing Liu Catholic Church, situated in the posterior wall region of Tainan and which had won the “Pritzker Architecture Prize” (the architectural equivalent of an Oscar), left him the deepest impression. In 2009, President Ma paid another visit to the Church, where he sang the nursery rhyme “Frere Jacques” with the choir impromptu, which made the clergy staff of the Jing Liu Church very excited indeed.
Ma Ying-jeou also remembered past events involving the late Cardinal Shan. To President Ma, Cardinal Shan is his most respected elder through the years. When Cardinal Shan passed away last year, Ma Ying-jeou had missed him very much.
The article in which Ma Ying-jeou revealed his connections with the Catholic Church also sparked discussions around his religious beliefs. It had been long publicized online that Ma Ying-jeou was born in a reverent Catholic family, where his father (Ma Hok-lin) and sister (Ma Yi-lan) were both Catholics.
Besides, a friend of Ma Ying-jeou also exclusively revealed to the Gospel Herald that Ma Ying-jeou was baptized at the age of 8 in a Catholic chapel in Hong Kong. Although President Ma was not regularly involved in Church life, he held deep and special sentiments towards the Catholic faith.
However, once Ma Ying-jeou entered the political field, some Christians questioned his actions of “bowing in all temples”. To them, if Ma Ying-jeou was truly a Catholic, then he should not sacrifice religious beliefs (thus bowing to idols) in order to gain political benefits.
There were also those who support him, responding that President Ma was trying to respect the practices of various regions, where he humbly lowered his status to “release kindness” to regional citizens, in order to express his respect towards their religious beliefs.
There was one American Taiwanese pastor who commented through the Gospel Herald, saying, “If President Ma considers himself a Christian, then he should publicly declare his faith; there is freedom of religion in Taiwan, and thus President Ma needs not become a Nicodemus Christian.”
He believed that a leader who publicly declared his religion could win the respect of many more people.
[Editor's note: Carol Lee translated the article.]