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June 24, 2017

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Ma to leave for Vatican today with Franz vase

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou will bring Pope Francis a ceramic vase by a home-grown brand as he makes his first formal visit to the Vatican to attend the pope's inaugural Mass, a presidential spokesperson said yesterday.

Ma departs today for Rome with his wife, Chow Mei-ching, and three other delegates from Taiwan to the inaugural Mass slated for Tuesday.

The gift for the new pope is a magpie-theme vase produced by Franz, a Taiwan-based ceramic vendor, said the spokesperson, Lee Chia-fei, explaining that the bird is a traditional Taiwanese symbol of good fortune, which is fitting for the present occasion.

Ma will also send the retired Pope Benedict XVI a tea-blossom-themed vase, Lee added.

Lee said Franz — a successful Taiwan-based brand whose popularity has been growing fast internationally — was chosen because the company chairman is a Catholic and an alumnus of Taipei's Fu Jen Catholic University, whose head, Vincent Chiang, is also in the Taiwan delegation to the inauguration.

She said gifts for other people are also mostly ceramic pieces, and all of which have been carefully packed and loaded onboard the charter plane that will take Ma and the others to Rome.

The plane is scheduled to depart today, flying non-stop to Rome. Ma is expected to leave on March 20, flying straight back to Taiwan.

It will be Ma's first official visit to the Vatican, which is Taiwan's only diplomatic ally in Europe.

The Holy See has expressed a warm welcome to Ma, and sources were cited by the Central News Agency as saying that the Vatican has laid down no restrictions on the president's visit in terms of the length of the stay and his itinerary.

The Vatican has suggested places, such as museums and churches, which Ma may want to see, the sources were cited as saying.

The sources added that Ma will visit Taiwan's embassy in the Vatican and meet with Taiwanese priests and expatriates living in Italy.

Meanwhile, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng said he does not expect Ma's Vatican trip to dampen cross-strait relations. He urged Beijing to respect Taipei's interactions with its diplomatic ally.

The CNA also cited sources as commenting that Ma's visit is a normal diplomatic move and will tighten mutual ties.

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