The pandemic affected all levels of education practically in the whole world. According to some statistics out of a 1.6 billion students—24 million, especially in Asia, have lost every opportunity to start or continue their education. Others are confronted with online learning and other creative methods with better or worse results. Even in the countries less affected by the pandemic, as is the case of Taiwan, the number of students experiencing stress, depression, anxiety and crisis situations is growing rapidly. For example, in the university where I am working—the Fu Jen Catholic University—the number of students urgently needing psychological and spiritual help in the Student Counseling Center has increased threefold in the last year alone. This new situation is a challenge for all people involved in the education ministry, including our SVD confreres.
Surely, the pandemic is not the only challenge in the today’s world, but it revealed or intensified many other problems existing before in families, schools, and society in general and affecting the educational work, such as a general devaluation of the family, degradation of interpersonal relationships, a decline in ethical and moral values, growing relativism, waning influence of religion and others—recognized by the SVD as the signs
Cf. Ucanews: Ben Joseph, “Pandemic challenges Catholic Church’s education mission in Asia,” accessed Mai 15, 2021,
Cf. Information from the Counseling Center (Fudao zhongxin 輔導中心) of the Fu Jen Catholic University.
of our times already ten years ago. The new situation requires a new reflection and a new response to these processes. The answer of the SVD and the whole church in the Education Ministry is extremely important, because as is generally known “education is the driving force behind … the social and cultural progress of society” and “the Catholic Church is undoubtedly the largest single organization which provides education to people all over the world.”
The challenge facing the SVD in the education ministry is discussed shortly in this paper. Different levels of challenge reflected together with the questions should be answered in order to react adequately. Subsequently the possible response of the SVD is proposed, on the individual, interpersonal, social and international level, based on the experience of the educational work at the Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan. Finally a short meta-level reflection is presented as conclusion, with a hope to enable a comprehensive and permanent response to our SVD mission in the education field.
Questions Facing the SVD Education Ministry
The pandemic challenged the SVD and the Church on several levels: The individual
Cf. SVD Education Ministry as Mission of Dialogue (In Dialogue with the Word, no. 10), Rome: SVD Publications Generalate 2010, 31-36
SVD Education Ministry, 16.
SVD Education Ministry, 18.
I would like to thank Fr. Leszek Niewdana, SVD, the vice-president of the Fu Jen Catholic University, for the information about numerous initiatives related to the SVD and the Fu Jen Catholic University as well as for substantial help in preparing this paper. Thanks also to Fr. Jac Kuepers, SVD, Fr. Frank Budenholzer, SVD, Sr. Felisa Liou Chin-ping, SSpS, and other SVD confreres and SSpS sisters.
level—very obviously and concretely—includes the question how to help every student to face the pandemic and other personal problems. Which way should we go, which methods should we use, and which values should we promote, in other to solve concrete personal crises and conflicts, and to prevent other similar problems in the future? Which kind of psychological or spiritual help is needed?
The second level is interpersonal and concerns the relationship between students, in the group, including relations in the student’s family. Many relationships were broken in the pandemic time, and the lockdowns, quarantines, and compulsion of online learning caused self-isolation of numerous students. Therefore, this level includes the questions how to help students restore relationships or build new ones; how to promote a holistic education including the emotional education and social relationships of students.
The next level is the level of a local society, with its specific situation during the pandemic, but also with its particular problems and areas of special needs. In Taiwan one of such problems is the situation in areas inhabited by the indigenous people, where the education system is often lame or limited. The question of this level for the SVD is how to connect the education with the local society, especially in the time of pandemic; how to apply the results of research and teaching in solving real problems of local society; how to allow students to cross the limits of the university campus and be involved in the service for the society.
In the globalized world of today, the international level should be added to the previous ones. The pandemic is the experience of the whole world, as well as many other problems. This level includes a question of how to help students, even in the time of pandemic, learn about other cultures, establish relationships with people in other countries and contribute to the social andspiritual development there. This level is especially important for relatively isolated countries such as Taiwan, with a tendency to focus on its own problems.
Finally, the SVD Education Ministry is challenged by the pandemic on the meta-level. In this abnormal situation reflection on the education ministry itself is needed: on its motivation, goals, expectations, on the importance of the educational work in our own vocation, as well as on its contribution to our mission in society. If, as we say: “His Mission is Our Mission,” then the question is reasonable, whether we—doing educational work—live in “the spirit of Christ” and whether “our presence in an educational institution aims at making it a place of evangelization where the word of God can be heard and its liberating power experienced in one’s personal and social life.” Only then our education ministry would be able to answer all other questions at other levels.
Fu Jen Catholic University
As the proposed response of the SVD to the challenge we face at various levels is based on the experience of the Fu Jen Catholic University, to remind shortly its context can be reasonable. The Fu Jen University—the oldest Catholic university in the Chinese world and the only one recognized by the Vatican—was, as is generally known, originally established in 1925 in Beijing by the Benedictines and handed over to Divine Word Missionaries in 1933. After the Communists took control of Beijing, the university was re-established in 1961 in Taiwan, as a joint project of the SVD, Jesuits and the local Taiwanese Church—a unique cooperation in the whole world. The Fu Jen Catholic University became from the beginning the Catholic academic, educational and spiritual center on the island. Today, there are 27,000 students and 2000
The Constitutions of the Society of the Divine Word, Taipei: SVD 2011, 21.
professors involved in the educational work at the university. However, only 1% of them are Catholics, 7% Protestants, and the majority is related to the Chinese popular religion or has no religious affiliation. As the leading private university in Taiwan, Fu Jen is also involved in many social projects and in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue. It provides intellectual support for the Catholic Church in Taiwan in solving contemporary problems of the Taiwanese society, as well as for the Church in the People’s Republic of China. Eighteen Divine Word Missionaries and seven SSpS sisters working presently at the university are active, in the administration of the university (as vice president), in the university hospital (as vice president for mission as well), as academic staff in various faculties and in other areas. Together with other academics and co-workers they contribute to the mission of the Fu Jen Catholic University in the spirit of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Sanctity—the motto of the university.
Response on the Individual Level
In the response to the pandemic crisis that affected the life of all students, the SVD and the Fu Jen University try to reach concrete students and offer psychological and spiritual help if needed. The basic, and maybe the most important occasions for that, are probably the direct everyday relations with students, conversations before or after classes. Careful listening and attentiveness to their problems help to react adequately.
For more information about the Fu Jen Catholic University, see: Website of the Fu Jen Catholic University. Accessed Mai 15, 2021. www.fju.edu.tw.
Students in need of special psychological or spiritual care may get professional help in our Student Counseling Center. Because of the pandemic and related increase of depression and crisis situations among students, the staff of the Counseling Center was extended and has presently 12 full-time and 33 part-time helpers, taking care of students in need. Both Individual and Group Counseling with professional counselors are available, including spiritual guidance and religious counseling. Also, staff members can look for conversation and help if needed. English language counseling is also available if students do not speak Mandarin. The Student Counseling Center holds Personal Growth Workshops on topics related to problems students meet: stress management, relationship building, time management, etc. In such a way the participants can get a basic understanding of skills to help with difficulties they experience. If needed, specialist services outside of the university are contacted for more appropriate care. The medical assistance in our Fu Jen Catholic University Hospital for students and medical staff has been strengthened.
In addition to the counseling, there are also other initiatives of the Fu Jen Catholic University intending to prevent crisis situations during and after the pandemic, and to ensure a healthy campus environment for spiritual and physical health of students. The university promotes holistic education in order to carry out the spirit of Christian love and to offer students a well-balanced education, including moral education. Our SVDs are particularly active in this field.
Response on the Interpersonal Level
Healthy interpersonal relationships between students, relations in the class and in students’ families are the necessary foundation of holistic education and the care
For more information see: Counseling Service of the Fu Jen Catholic University, accessed Mai 15, 2021. www.scc.fju.edu.tw/administration.jsp.for them is also a part of our SVD Education Ministry. The pandemic destroyed many relationships of students, including those with friends and family. Before the pandemic Taiwanese students were used to travelling abroad, as Taiwan is a relatively small island. This is not possible now, and a feeling of isolation has increased. The online learning—even if necessary and helpful for the time being—with a large number of students and less direct interaction can easily generate self-isolation, especially if the professors do not pay special attention to it.
Various programs have been started by the university in order to help students to restore relationships and build new ones, to strengthen the holistic education including the emotional education and social relationships of students. As a response to stress reactions among students, which happen more often because of the pandemic and other recent accidents, the university has started to promote the Xin program of the Ministry of Education “The Five Steps to Serenity,” intending mutual encouragement and assistance in the group of students. The five steps of peace are explained as follows:
1. safety: students are encouraged to keep themselves and the environment safe, and avoid over-exposure to information and images that cause discomfort, such as pandemic or accidents;
2. calm and self-control: activities that stimulate positive emotions are promoted, such as listening to quiet music, taking a bath, yoga and other exercises;
3. self-efficacy: students are encouraged to engage in things that help them feel worthy and capable, including observation of their own physical and mental reactions and sources of stress, and setting short-term and achievable goals;
4. promotion of relationships, by actively interacting with relatives and friends, who can support and help if needed;
5. hope: optimism and hope are promoted to reduce unnecessary self-blame and distress, and to help recover naturally.
In order to understand better and respond faster to new problems, the university has started a series of special projects (for the next four years), including a databank analysis of problems and experiences of students with the help of the AI technology, the preparation of materials for emotional education, or the more extensive involvement of our Fu Jen Hospital in promoting holistic health in the university and beyond. As the Fu Jen University, and Divine Word Missionaries, in particular, are involved in the interreligious and intercultural dialogue, numerous spiritual meetings and liturgies were held in the last year, combining elements of Chinese and Catholic tradition, like the veneration of ancestors on Qingming Festival, blessings, requiem for the deceased, etc.
Local Society Level
An important part of our Education Ministry is the connection of the intra-university education with the local society, learning about the social and cultural problems in the region, as well as the preparation of students for the service to the society. Nowadays the higher education in Taiwan is no longer just the education of the elite, but has become a general education, as almost everybody goes to university. As a response to the social responsibility of our university, with the help of education we want to contribute to solving some current problems of the local society and to raise the quality of life in the community. Even if there are clear limits in the pandemic time for the involvement of students in the service on the spot, our university has developed numerous programs helping the society and at the same time enabling students to stay in touch with real problems of Taiwanese people.
Our response to the signs of the times in the period of pandemic includes several levels of Service Learning in subsequent years of study. New students attend classes in Holistic Education, where they discuss personal and social problems as well as get an introduction to the service in the society. In the second year, students take internships in one of the social centers, helping people in need. In the subsequent years a part of the students is also active in the international service.
The Fu Jen Catholic University leads the program of the Ministry of Education for tutoring children in neglected rural areas of Taiwan, partly in the Taiwanese indigenous communities. Our students—supported by a group of other students and assisted by an instructor—are in vivid online contact with these children, helping them in their homework and at the same time learning themselves responsibility, punctuality and partnership. They also learn about real social problems, like poverty, underdevelopment, cultural differences, domestic violence and other family problems in a natural way, and they learn to face them with the help of the group and the instructor. For summer vacations—if possible—a student camp is scheduled for tutors and their pupils, which would help to strengthen their relationship.
Other programs emphasize the partnership and dialog with the local government and local corporations. For example, the cooperation with the Zhonghua Telecom allows to solve problems with online connection all over Taiwan, Yuanta Commercial Bank supports scholarships for students, about forty other corporations participate in our Job Fair, maintain contacts to our students during their studies and help them to find a job (Career Development Project). The partnership and dialog with the local authorities and companies allow us also to communicate the mission and goals of a catholic university in the society.
The education would be incomplete and our response would be deficient without the inclusion of the international level. As the pandemic and many other problems have become global today, the sharing of experience and solutions has become important, too, even more in the education process. For geographically and politically isolated Taiwan inclined to focus on its own problems the international relations are vital. As Divine Word Missionaries, we have numerous contacts with Catholic institutions abroad, allowing us to help our students to experience other cultures and to contribute to the social and spiritual development there. In such a way the students can also learn about the church in action, including its extensive charity work.
Even if in the period of pandemic most travels became impossible, we keep and develop our international partnerships, especially in Asia and Africa. For few years now, the Fu Jen Catholic University has been involved in the support of the education and medical service in the diocese of Dédougou in Burkina Faso. Our academic staff and students help to organize a hospital and to train the staff there. In cooperation with the SVD and SSpS in Ghana we support also the education in Ghana and hope to continue this mutual exchange of experience soon. As a part of cooperation with universities in Tanzania, our students of the College of Medicine are assisting in Public Health in the north of the country, and students from the Department of Computer Science help in computer training at the Jordan University in Morogoro in the east. Our Taiwanese project of tutoring via Internet was transferred to Tanzania, and students of the Jordan University help children in the region.
Another cooperation is developing—despite the pandemic—between the Fu Jen Catholic University and the church in Vietnam. Our students and teachers help in orphanages there, in the education of children and of Vietnamese sisters working there. Another program supports the higher education of Vietnamese seminarians, preparing some of them for the academic work. An interreligious and intercultural cooperation with the Buddhist Amitofo Care Centre has started. The Center provides education for orphans in six different countries of Southern Africa. Our students hope to help there with teaching subjects like Chinese language or physics. Further plans are made for more intensive cooperation.