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Chinese youth call for religious freedom


As young Catholics from more than 150 nations gathered for World Youth Day in Rome, those from mainland China, prevented by their government from attending, had to find another outlet for their faith.

For some, it took the form of a strongly worded letter to Pope John Paul II, accusing the Chinese government of trying to divide them from the church. The letter, published by the Vatican press agency Fides, said the young people hoped for religious freedom and a visit to their homeland from the pope.

“Unfortunately, once again we young people on Mainland China will not be able to share this event with the young Catholics of the rest of the world,” the letter said. “This makes us very sad and disappointed. … With courage, we want to overcome the evils of the past and live our Christian life in the light of our faith.”

The young people said they were praying that all leaders of the Chinese Catholic church -- bishops, priests and members of religious congregations -- would guide the faithful “in communion with the pope.”

In China, government-certified Catholics must renounce allegiance to the pope.

All other Catholics are forced to worship underground, risking imprisonment. Nuns and priests in China have described prison as “our seminary.” As an example, in May, an underground priest distributing unauthorized Bibles was sentenced to six years in prison. Nevertheless, resistance to government policies is growing, according to news reports.

On Aug. 16, with a government crackdown on unofficial religious activity underway, the head of the official Catholic Church in China said the church would not consider official ties with the Vatican unless the Vatican first severed diplomatic relations with China’s rival Taiwan.

More than 400 young Taiwanese Catholics were in Rome for World Youth Day. Another 500 young Chinese Catholics attended from Hong Kong and Macao.

Relations between the Vatican and the official Catholic church in China are strained, in part because of the church’s practice of ordaining bishops without Vatican approval. The Vatican has said the practice is an obstacle to formal ties.

Since the late 1970s, the official Catholic church in China has ordained 1,000 priests. Fu, a defender of the Chinese government’s claim that religious freedom exists, says that some 50,000 people are converting to Catholicism annually. Fu told a reporter from Xianhua news service recently that an underground church in China is “unnecessary” because Chinese Catholic churches are open to everyone. Fu said there are 5 million Catholics in China. The official church has 50 bishops, none recognized by the Vatican.

In their letter to the pope, the young Chinese Catholics wrote, “We all pray to God the Father to continue to take care of the Chinese Catholic church, making it grow in ever deeper communion with the Roman Catholic church. … We cannot accept that there can be any other Catholic church in China. … A different church would be the sign of our infidelity, betrayal and lack of loyalty.

“For a long time we have hoped that diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See will be reestablished,” the young Catholics told the pope. “We want to welcome the pope to our land to see him with our eyes, to listen with our hearts to his teaching. … We also want the Chinese government, keeping up with the 21st century, to respect human rights and guarantee full religious freedom to all Chinese Christians.”

The letter included a message to participants in World Youth Day. “Dear Young Friends,” the letter said. “We wish to strengthen our faith. … It is time to proclaim the gospel to the people of China and to all the peoples on the earth.”

This article contains information from Catholic News Service.

National Catholic Reporter, August 25, 2000