Sunday, October 16, 2005
The Holy Rosary Cathedral Minor Basilica
I had seen this church from the bus window many times and it always stands out. The basic scenery of urban Kaohsiung consists of old-run down buildings that sometimes look like they have been bombed out and brand-new, clean, modern retail stores, restaurants, and other places of commerce. The church lies between some of the tightly-packed, dirty, run-down buildings on Wufu Road. It is set back a little from the street and has some open space between it and the surrounding small buildings (also administered by the church). It may not be the biggest church I have ever seen, but it isn't tiny, either. The neon lining the crucifix at the top really stands out at night, and the architecture is very western.
The sign on the fence out front lists the mass times. This church has mass in Taiwanese, Mandarin Chinese, and English. English mass is only held once on Sundays, but thankfully it isn't too early (11:00 am). As I was writing a note to myself to come back on Sunday (this was during my Friday night walk), I noticed a light on in the guard booth by the front gate. I asked the older gentleman sitting in there if he spoke English and if he could give me some information about the church. He spoke English with a little difficulty, so I tried Japanese. To my amazement, (he didn't look quite old enough to have had much of a Japanese education) he spoke excellent Japanese. He insisted on taking me inside to show me the church even though it was dark and I told him I would be back on Sunday.
My first impression of the inside of the church was – “Wow, am I in Mexico?” It turns out that the church was built in 1859 by the Spanish and has the image of Santa Maria displayed prominently in the altar. I am not good at describing art or religious iconography, but I took many pictures, so when flickr is working again, check them out. It is very colorful and with the exception of a few characters written inside the church, it doesn't give you any sense that you are in Asia.
I went back today for mass. The church was packed with a very international group, mostly laborers from the Philippines. Father Renaldo is also from the Philippines, but unlike Catholic services in Japan, there were some other nationalities represented as well. One of the members who did some of the readings is even from St. Louis! I also met a couple from India and I believe there are many Thai laborers that attend, as well.
During the service, Father Renaldo asked us to say a prayer for migrant workers everywhere. This statement is especially poignant in Kaohsiung. The subway system currently under construction is being built by foreign laborers, primarily from Thailand. Shortly before I arrived, they apparently rioted and went on strike because they have not been treated altogether fairly. At first I had heard that they rioted because their bosses would not let them drink, smoke, or gamble in their dormitories, but according to a few other locals, they have been taken advantage of in several other ways. A law enforcement officer I met this weekend told me that the company who contracts these workers does not pay them with real money! They are give “credit” that they have to use at company-owned store (who hears that old song “Sixteen Tons”?) and is not valid elsewhere. Someone here on campus (whose knowledge on this subject I trust very much) told me that the contracting company was supposed to be paying them about $1,000 U.S. a month in salary, but they were only receiving about a third to half of that. Even $1,000 might not seem like much to most Americans, you could easily live off of that here and still be able to save some or send some home to your family if you lived “on the cheap”.
Keeping these issues in mind, I readily offered my prayers for these hard-working people and their families.
After the service, I hung around to speak with Father Renaldo and some of the churchgoers. They let me snap some pictures (again, once flickr is working I will load them) and even fed me! I hung around and chatted with some of the Philippinos for a while as they gave me some noodles, bread, and cake. My stomach was still a little unsettled from the Pizza Hut buffet, but I managed to get enough down for a small lunch.
I really like this church and the congregation. I am sure I will be back on the few Sundays when I will actually be here in Kaohsiung, but I have a lot of travel plans coming up, so that will probably only be about half of the Sundays between now and Christmas. Hopefully I can make it to the Christmas party they invited me to, because I am sure there will be some free food there!