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TAIWAN-BAPTIZE Apr-20-2006 (770 words) xxxi

Taiwan's ambassador to Vatican baptized a Catholic

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The Taiwanese ambassador to the Vatican was so impressed with seeing "an inner peace and happiness" in the Catholics he met while living and working in Rome that he decided to convert to Catholicism.

Ambassador Tou Chou-seng was baptized Catholic during an April 17 Mass in his parish Church of St. Eugenio in Rome. The 20th-century church is run by the personal prelature of Opus Dei, and Spanish Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, head of Opus Dei, presided over the Mass and baptism.

The 64-year-old diplomat told Catholic News Service April 19 that he was "very happy" about becoming a part of the Catholic Church and feels he has been given a brand new life.

He said the decision to convert was "a long-time process, a meditation, a discovering (of) the truths about Catholicism."

Many factors -- beginning with his appointment as Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican -- came together over the years to put him on the path toward Christ, he said.

That appointment was "a divine grace," a gift from God as it exposed him to the many documents and teachings of the church as well as to the pope's homilies. He also met large numbers of Vatican officials, men and women religious, and lay Catholics though his diplomatic work in Rome.

He said he found "a very special thing" in these people, something unusual that piqued his curiosity; he sensed they almost all possessed "a kind of peace, inner peace, happiness, and that really touched me."

He said he tried to uncover the reason for their happiness and he discovered it was "because they have Christ in their hearts and they live following the example of Christ."

Born in 1942 in mainland China, Tou said he and his parents moved to Taiwan when he was 5 years old. He did not have any religious upbringing, he said, although he attended a Protestant church during middle and high school.

He was an avid reader of Confucian and of Buddhist philosophy and writings but he "wasn't moved" by either belief system, he said.

Tou's wife and two sons are Catholic, and he said they were thrilled with his decision to be baptized. Even though he said Catholic members in his family and friends had always told him they were praying for him, he said he never felt pressured by anyone to become Catholic.

He said he felt their prayers for him were "out of good will. No one can force anybody to believe in a religion."

Tou, who has been a diplomat to the Vatican since 2004, told CNS that he has not yet informed government officials in Taiwan about his baptism, but plans to do so. He said there is full religious freedom in Taiwan, so informing them would just be a formality and would not signal that he was seeking approval from the government for his religious beliefs.

Other ambassadors to the Vatican as well as some members of the Vatican Secretariat of State, including the foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, attended the ceremony, which featured Gospel readings and the Hail Mary in Chinese. Tou had the Philippine ambassador to the Vatican, Leonida Vera, be his godmother.

Becoming a Catholic represents "a rebirth," the ambassador said.

"Every time I speak or react I think twice now because I'm a Catholic. I cannot behave as it was before," he said with a laugh.

He said he tries to do his best to be charitable and kind though "it's still very new; I was only baptized two days ago," he joked.

Currently, the Vatican's diplomatic relations are with Taiwan, not the People's Republic of China.

Tou said there are still "a lot of problems that exist between the Holy See and (mainland) China" because Chinese officials continue to put stiff controls on religion and even persecute men and women religious. He said he felt China would have to offer greater religious liberty to Catholics in China if diplomatic ties with the Vatican, severed in 1951, would ever be restored.

Beijing said that it has two main conditions for re-establishing relations with the Vatican -- the Vatican must break off its ties to Taiwan and not interfere with China's internal affairs. The Vatican has made it clear that it would be willing to move its embassy from Taiwan to Beijing if diplomatic relations were re-established with mainland China.

Tou said encouraging signs are China's moves toward economic reform which, "if they can be followed by political reform," could pave the way for greater respect for basic human rights.


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