02/05/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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In Lanzhou diocese, Bible studies warm the hearts of the faithful during the cold winter months

by Zhen Yuan
About 15,000 faithful take part in courses organised across the diocese. For the first time, they are held in private homes. It is an important experience for both believers and clergy. Participants talk about their experience.
Lanzhou (AsiaNews) – Biblical studies in Lanzhou (Gansu) warmed the heart of parishioners in this cold and wintry region of northwestern China. They are usually held in December and January, a time of ‘peasant leisure’ in which the faithful can deepen their faith and renew their affiliation with the Church.

Mgr Han Zhihai, bishop of Lanzhou, told AsiaNews that about 40 per cent of a community, 15,000 out of the diocese’s 40,000 Catholics, participated in the activity. The diocese itself is divided in 48 parishes.

Many participants gathered in private homes; others went to church, even on snowy days with temperatures 10 below zero.

“It’s an effort our priests want to do for the Year for Priests,” he said.  This “was emphasised in the pastoral plan during the priests’ education week in late October 2009.”

There are many educational courses for the laity but this is the first time that they are held in private homes as well as parish churches.

The experience has been so positive that the prelate thinks, “Parish priests, nuns and lay leaders could plan a programme to fit the needs” of each parish.

The Bible-study courses could range from a week to two months, and focus on a scripture, catechism, liturgy or prayer. Bishop Han gave lectures on similar topics following requests by parishes.

Fr Han Yuanzhong from Songshu parish said that local priests, nuns and seminarians divided about a thousand parishioners into 16 groups. They taught courses in private homes. Over two months, the Gospel of St. John, catechism, liturgy and other subjects were taught in four-hour sessions.

Previously, courses were given in churches and people who did not attend church regularly would usually miss them.

On this occasion, “families took turns hosting us so that those who do not go to church could attend courses given in their own homes. Some used the opportunity to get confession and deepened their understanding of Church doctrine and the Catholic faith.”

Moreover, “preparing the course materials has also helped me reflect on my faith and religious vocation, in response to the Year for Priests,” Father Han said.

“After the study of the Bible and the Church teachings, I noticed the parishioners have become more active. They have learnt more about the Bible and live better their faith.”

In his parish, this year’s course will end in a few days. After that, Catholics will prepare for Chinese New Year. On 14 February, Songshu parishioners will gather in church and greet each other as they do every year before the start of the traditional celebration.

An eight-day Biblical course was given in Nanhu parish, Shandan County. About 80 members of the local parish, especially young people, attended.

One parishioner in Lanzhou said that family-oriented courses “help children grow in a Catholic educational environment.”

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