Giving Thanks for the Testimony of Cardinal Shan

by on Friday, 28 September 2012 Comments

Cardinal Paul Shan passed away in New Taipei City on August 22, 2012.

The emotion created in Taiwan by the death of Cardinal Paul Shan has been deep and far-reaching. Obviously, the voice of Cardinal Shan was heard and loved well beyond the frontiers of the Catholic community. The Cardinal is and will be missed by men and women of many faiths and ways of life. I see at least three reasons behind the respect and admiration that had been surrounding him all these years:

First of all, during the last part of his life Cardinal Shan had led his struggle against cancer in peace and openness, sharing about it in a way that was speaking to everyone: we are all being confronted to illness, suffering and our own mortality. Finding the words for describing such experience with both sincerity and modesty is not easy task. Cardinal Shan was not a man of exaggerated feelings, he never staged his struggle, but he did not hide its hardships either. The inner peace radiating from his words and behavior was genuine – and all who came in contact with him experienced such genuineness.

Second, Cardinal Shan was transformed by the experience of illness, and - even before this time - by the very fact of meeting and working with a large number of people very different in background and beliefs. The way he continuously shared about life and death with people of other religions was certainly the fruit of his openness: he was meeting people on what is essential, what is common to our human condition. Through his sharing he let two different experiences become one and the same: the experience of illness, and the experience of meeting people of other faiths – the two were part of the same transforming process. God was revealing himself to him both in his suffering body and in the people he was encountering when sharing about the coming of death. Being transformed is always a humbling experience, and I think it is his humility, fostered both by illness and by interreligious dialogue, that ultimately touched most the heart of the people of Taiwan.

Finally, there is a feature of Cardinal Shan’s life and behavior that has been an important t reason for his popularity: he was very clear and simple in everything he was communicating. Some people may even at times disagree with what he was thinking or planning, but the simplicity of the principles that were guiding him and the clarity he was giving to their expression were striking to everyone. Clarity is the characteristic of a very gifted communicator – and Cardinal Shan was very gifted at communication, not because he was using special techniques, just because he was very direct, because he was always aiming at what was essential to him.

The emotion created by his disappearance shows to us how much Taiwan expects his spiritual leaders to be men of simplicity, clarity and openness to others. Taiwan expects from religious leaders a testimony of life, not long discourses and divisive behaviors. Actually, the great Christian or Buddhist figures who have inspired Taiwan from the eighties onwards are now aging or have already disappeared. A new generation of religious leaders may slowly emerge, but it will have to rely on courage in action, simplicity in language, and veracity in behavior. The example of Cardinal Shan will continue to inspire all these who are in charge to lead and to advise others along their spiritual path.


Photo courtesy of  Weshare Education and Charity Fund


Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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