Matsu makes direct mainland visit

The China Post staff

The statue of Matsu, of Goddess of the Sea, at Penghu County’s Tien Ho Kung (Heavenly Queen Temple) will embark today on a homecoming pilgrimage to mainland China in the first officially approved direct religious journey across the Taiwan Strait. Close to 300 officials and staff of the temple, as well as those from other Matsu temples in Taiwan, will escort the statue back to Chuanzhou City in Fujian Province in southeast China, from where she came to Taiwan’s offshore county of Penghu 410 years ago. Organizers said the Matsu statue had returned to the Tien Ho Kung in Chuanzhou many times in the past. But today’s trip marks the first ever direct cross-strait journey.

They have prepared for the direct trip for two years and only recently won formal approval from the government. Statues of the host deities at many other Matsu temples in Taiwan will accompany Matsu on the trip. There are an estimated 500 Matsu temples around Taiwan and on offshore islands. Following pre-departure rituals and rites, an ultramodern liner will leave Penghu at 10 a.m. today and is estimated to arrive at Chuanzhou’s Tien Ho Kung in the afternoon. More ceremonies will be held at the temple tomorrow for the reunion.

Officials and the Matsu statute of Chuanzhou’s Tien Ho Kung will make a reciprocal visit to Penghu on Thursday. They will join officials of other Matsu temples in Taiwan area to hold a series of worship sessions from July 27 to Aug. 3 to pray for good weather and safety for the nation and people. A ceremony will also be held to commemorate the victims of the crash of a passenger jet of Taiwan’s China Airlines offshore Penghu on May 25 as well as those who perished in other accidents and natural disasters over the years. The Matsu statue from Chuanzhou is scheduled to return home on Aug. 5. Matsu is one of the most popular deities in Taiwan’s folk religions, since the majority of people in Taiwan trace their ancestors to Fujian Province.

Born into a fisherman’s family on the small islet of Meizhou of Fujian, Matsu underwent apotheosis over 1,000 years ago. She became the guardian angel for both fishermen and Chinese immigrants who braved stormy seas and bad weather to start a new life in Taiwan, Penghu, and Southeast Asian nations. Today’s trip is expected to set a precedent for formal direct religious interchanges across the Taiwan Strait. But each trip must be approved by the appropriate government agencies.