ROME – From the beginning of Italy’s COVID-19 outbreak, the embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Holy See has offered support through both financial assistance and donations of sanitary and protective gear. With numbers again on the rise and more restrictions looming, Taiwan is again stepping up its help.
Most of this help has been offered in partnership with other organizations. In August, the embassy provided 50,000 surgical masks to the Sovereign Order of Malta, which in turn sent them to Honduras, which is currently at high risk for the spread of the coronavirus.
Upon receiving the donation, Barnard Casanova, the Order of Malta’s representative in Honduras, said the masks would be distributed to local communities in need, including special educational projects of the Sisters of Mary, such as the Villa de las Niñas and the Villa de los Niños, as well as the hospital in Ojojona.
Taiwan has also offered a financial contribution to the Vatican’s special COVID-19 taskforce, led by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development.
In addition to its direct financial assistance to the Vatican taskforce, Taiwan has also provided support to a project spearheaded by the migrants and refugees section of Turkson’s department called “City of Youth,” which is dedicated to building a town based entirely on sustainability and the clean, renewable energies called for by Pope Francis in his 2015 eco-encyclical, Laudato Si.
Taiwan has also offered medical supplies to individual groups, projects, organizations or dioceses, including the Italian island of Sicily.
At the request of Father Calogero Orifiamma – a Sicilian native currently serving as a missionary in Taiwan – the Taiwanese embassy to the Holy See recently sent a large shipment of masks, gloves and digital thermometers, as well as a monetary contribution, to the Diocese of Caltanissetta.
Bishop Mario Russotto, who oversees the Caltanissetta diocese and who received the donation, said Sicily is “one of the southernmost as well as one of the smallest dioceses in Italy. We always rank at the bottom of the list when it comes to economy, wealth and wellbeing.”
“Unfortunately, there is no common scale for measuring values, such as intelligence, charity and generosity. Otherwise, we would rank at the top because this small diocese has a big heart,” he said, thanking Taiwan for its assistance.
Russotto said the supplies would be shared with all dioceses in Sicily through the Caritas charitable organization.
In Italy, which has seen a slower resurgence of the coronavirus already seen in other European countries, fears are swelling over possible new restrictions on public life and activity as the number of new daily reported cases has surpassed 5,000 and the number of deaths per 24 hours is climbing closer to 50.
Taiwan itself has had no reported domestic cases of COVID-19 since April 12. They have recorded just over 100 cases since then, but they all were either imported from travelers returning from abroad, or originated from a small outbreak on board a navy ship returning from Palau.
Taiwan’s embassy to the Holy See also decided to celebrate this year’s National Day festivities alongside papal almoner, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, and representatives of Catholic charity organization Caritas and the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation.
Celebrated Oct. 10, Taiwan’s National Day – officially the National Day of the Republic of China – celebrates the beginning of the 1911 Wuchang Uprising, which culminated with the end of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912.
In mainland China, the National Day is celebrated Oct. 1, commemorating the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 after the communist takeover.
To mark the Oct. 10 holiday, Taiwan’s embassy to the Holy See enlisted the help of Krajewski to prepare a traditional Taiwanese meal for the poor and homeless.
In addition to “restoring their dignity” as human beings through the lunch, the embassy also provided sleeping bags made in Taiwan to attendees. They also launched a joint initiative with Caritas’s Rome branch and the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation to provide tuna cans and eco-blankets to the poor and needy.
The lunch took place Oct. 8 at the Palazzo Migliore – a 19th century Vatican-owned building just behind St. Peter’s Square which Pope Francis in February designated as a sanctuary for the homeless, dubbing in the “Palace of the Poor,” which is run by volunteers from the Italian Sant’Egidio movement.
A day earlier, on Oct. 7, an event with Caritas and the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation was held at the Casa Santa Giacinta Shelter in Rome, which is near to the Roman basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, for the distribution of the blankets and tuna.
Matthew Lee, Taiwanese Ambassador to the Holy See, said that it was “an honor” to commemorate Taiwan’s National Day “with brothers and sisters in need” while promoting the values “of inclusiveness, hospitality and friendship.”
Referring to Pope Francis’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Lee said the embassy wanted to put the document into practice, insisting that “fraternity is not a trend or a fashion…but the result of concrete acts as well as to promote interfaith exchanges and cooperation in order to deliver humanitarian aid where it is most needed.”
Since the coronavirus first broke out in Italy in February, Taiwan’s embassy to the Holy See has provided numerous shipments of medical and protective equipment to several Vatican institutions, religious orders and Catholic hospitals.
However, while publicly thanking mainland China for similar assistance it provided to the Vatican and to Italy during the spring outbreak, Pope Francis made no such gesture to Taiwan. Apart from a few photos with Krajewski, there is no hint that Taiwan has offered assistance, as the Vatican has yet to make a public gesture of gratitude.
A 2018 provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops is set to expire this month. The Vatican has proposed extending the deal for another two years despite criticism, however, it is unknown if Chinese authorities will accept the proposed extension.
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