Moscow (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of worshippers attended today's divine liturgy officiated by Kirill, the patriarch of Moscow, in Shanghai's Mother of God Surety of Sinners Orthodox Cathedral. It was the first religious service in the church for over 50 years.
"It is remarkable that the first service" should "take place on Easter days," the patriarch said as his visit to China comes to an end, the first by a Russian religious leader.
The rebirth of this church "is a part of the rebirth of China and the great Chinese nation," he said, quoted in Interfax.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is trying to reassert its influence in the Orthodox community in the People's Republic, thanked all the faithful, who have contributed to the life of this church and "especially the two priests who served in the cathedral 50 years ago."
The construction of Shanghai's Orthodox cathedral began in May 1933 after then Archbishop Simon (Vinogradov) launched a fund-raising drive.
Completed in 1937 with space for up to 2,500 people, it became the pride of Russian immigrants, who referred to it as "the Kremlin of Chinese Orthodoxy."
Religious services came to an end during the years of the Cultural Revolution, and were never resumed. The building was eventually nationalised and converted into a warehouse. Inside, now there is a museum. At present, it belongs to the municipality of Shanghai.
Orthodox Christianity is not one of the five religions officially recognised by China. The government allows the Orthodox faithful, mostly descendants of Russian emigrants, to gather for Mass at the consulate of the Russian Federation in Shanghai and occasionally in the smaller church of St Nicholas, which was turned into a restaurant in the 1990s.
Many of the people who attended the religious service said they hoped that the cathedral would be soon returned to the community.
"There is hope," Russian student Ira Pererva told AFP. The issue "was talked about at the highest levels but there is no result."
In fact, Shanghai's city government is afraid that agreeing to the request could encourage other claims for religious property, the French news agency said, citing diplomatic sources.
Shanghai's Jewish community has also sought greater use of the city's remaining synagogues. (N.A.)