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MOI praises 80 religious workers for years of service

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday honored 80 foreign members of the religious community for having served and helped people in Taiwan for at least 20 years.

The 80 honorees represent a total of 2,938 years of service, with an average of 37 years of service each, and 13 of today's honorees have surpassed 50 years of service in the country, said Interior Minister Lee Yi-yang in his opening remarks.

"We should be grateful to foreign religious people for their donation and for their love of Taiwan," said Lee, during a ceremony to thank the religious members.

Held once every ten years, the event was peppered with musical acts by performing groups that included the Hsiloya Choir from the Suang-lien Foundation for the Visually Impaired, and the National Taipei University of Education's string music ensemble.

A special performance was also put together by the MOI, with Lee on the French horn and trombone, while his colleagues sang the Mandarin oldie "The Moon Represents my Heart" and the Taiwanese tune, "The World's Best."

Dedicated to the honorees, the songs served to express the ministry's "respect, love, and gratitude for their selfless contributions," according to Lee.

In the past 10 years, Taiwan has experienced many setbacks such as the 9-21 earthquake, the slump in the economy, and other societal problems. However, religious groups have continued to help disadvantaged families in all corners of the country, said Premier Chang Chun-hsiung.

Chang added that the religious members' willingness to live and stay in Taiwan on a long-term basis is very fortunate for the Taiwanese, and something everyone in the country should cherish.

Of this year's recipients, Catholic priest Jesus Zarandona was the most elderly, at 95 years of age and 52 years of service in Hsinchu County. "I'm happy!" said the jovial Spanish native with a big smile about receiving the honorific.

German-born Helene Reichl was one of the honored nuns. She came to Taiwan in 1970. Reichl works at "Bible camps" for children and teenagers, visits prisons and hospitals to help people and teach them about religion.

"The world is so big that I didn't know what Taiwan was like before I came here. Now I am a part of Taiwan, I dedicate myself to Jesus and to the Taiwanese people," said Reichl.

"I'll stay in Taiwan for the rest of my life. I came here with a Catholic mission. It's a lifetime contribution. I wish I could help more people and let them know Jesus," she added.

Congolese Catholic priest Khohi Mbm admits that he was a bit nervous when he first arrived in Taiwan 17 years ago, and it took him some time to get acclimated. "I'm still getting used to Taiwan, it's an ongoing process!" he said in fluent Mandarin.

When asked what he likes best about Taiwan he did not hesitate to reply "the people!" It is in fact the many friends he has made in the country that he said he misses most when he is away from the country.

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