HSINCHU, Taiwan (UCAN) – As retired Bishop Luke Liu Hsien-tang of Hsinchu gently poured holy water onto her forehead, 114-year-old Hsu-Song Ai-ren became the oldest person to be baptized in the Taiwan Catholic Church.
According to her Catholic former employer, John Chi Cheng-chung, who attended her baptism on Easter Sunday, she agreed to be baptized after he told her that they would be able to reunite in heaven if she became Christian. Hsu-Song had previously believed in Chinese folk religion.
And on April 8, Chi, 59, a physics lecturer at Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University, pushed Hsu-Song, seated in a wheelchair, into Immaculate Conception Church in Chutung town, Hsinchu county, for the ceremony.
Hsu-Song, who is still mentally alert, is now living at the Hsinchu diocesan-run Chang-An Hospice for the Aged in the county. She has been single all her life.
She was born into a poor family in mainland China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Her parents, to lessen their financial burden, gave her to a well-off family to work as a maid. In 1948, because of the Chinese civil war, she and her employer's family moved to Taiwan.
However, the family returned to the mainland the same year and entrusted her to the Chi family since she suffered from seasickness and could not tolerate another boat trip across the Strait of Taiwan.
Chi told UCA News that Hsu-Song has taken good care of him since he was one year old, and his family treats her as a family member. After Hsu-Song had a fall nine years ago, they decided to send her to the home for the aged for better care.
Chi, who was baptized 25 years ago, said, "I'm very happy that she has now become a Catholic."
Ignatius Wang Chai-I, director of the Chang-An Hospice for the Aged, told UCA News that he found out that Chi was a Catholic when they met at a Mass last year. In one of Chi's visits to Hsu-Song, Wang asked him to inquire if she wanted to get baptized.
"Hsu-Song agreed instantly, as she was willing to have the same religion as her young master," Wang said. Since the old lady has not learned catechism before, the Catholic staff at the home gave her catechism lessons every day since January, he noted.
Chi added, "It's natural that she would be happy to become a Catholic as she is well served by the church-run home."
Wang attributed Hsu-Song's longevity to her exclusive diet of rice porridge and bean curd, her cheerful personality and regular exercise before an operation on her right leg.
Mary Thomas Wang, media secretary of Hsinchu Diocese, told UCA News April 13 that about 200 Catholics witnessed Hsu-Song's baptism, with many of them elderly Catholics living at the Chang-An Hospice for the Aged.
As Hsu-Song and her other elderly housemates would find it uncomfortable to remain seated in a wheelchair for long, the parish church arranged for her to be the sole catechumen baptized on Easter Sunday, she said. There were about 20 baptisms during the Easter Vigil Mass the previous evening, she noted.
The parish celebrated her baptism with a tea party and dancing and singing performances after the Mass.
Mary Thomas Wang described the lively and cheerful Hsu-Song as being a bit photo-shy at the event. Nonetheless, she "raced" her wheelchair around the party venue. "She also covered her eyes and played with a candle as if it were a gun, pointing it at the journalists present," she said.
Ignatius Wang told UCA News that Hsu-Song's baptism has captured the attention of both church and secular media in Taiwan. He added that her baptism has helped promote the image of the church, and is good for evangelization.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).