Several members of Caritas Internationalis and representatives of Catholic charities from mainland China met in the Filipino capital to coordinate better action to prevent the spread of AIDS and deal with natural disasters in mainland China. "Our action is based on the same faith, and the charitable activities of the Catholic Church in China should not be isolated from the rest of the world," Caritas Asia president told AsiaNews.
Manila (AsiaNews) – After a long period in a legal grey zone, Catholic NGOs appear to enjoy greater freedom in mainland China, this according to the Third China Social Pastoral Conference.
Held in Manila (Philippines) from 1 to 3 February, the meeting was organised by Caritas Internationalis together with Caritas Asia. More than 30 participants took part in the event, including representatives from five Catholic charities from five dioceses in mainland China. The Chinese delegation was led by Jinde Charities, from Shijiazhuang, which publishes Faith Press.
The conference's aim was to improve cooperation between Chinese Catholic groups and those in the rest of the world. The first meeting of this kind took place in Taiwan three years ago, whilst the second was held in Macau.
The Manila meeting was the first outside Chinese-speaking regions, giving Asian Catholic Bishops like Card Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila and president of Caritas Internationalis, an opportunity to address Chinese delegates.
Caritas sources told AsiaNews that "until now it had always been very difficult to get the papers to invite representatives from the Chinese mainland. This year, the Chinese representatives did everything themselves and with ease."
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of national Caritas organisations all over the world. However, only national organisations recognised by the national Bishops' Conferences are allowed to join the confederation.
Since this is not the case for mainland China, the country does not have its own Caritas. Nevertheless, groups in Hong Kong and Macau have bridged the gap for a long time. At present, efforts are underway to establish a more direct relationship.
"Our action is based on the same faith, and the charitable activities of the Catholic Church in China should not be isolated from the rest of the world," Mgr Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, bishop of Niigata president of Caritas Asia, told AsiaNews.
The Manila meeting centred in particular on the spread of HIV/AIDS in China. Official figures tend to present a contradictory picture. The authorities have so far failed to come up with a suitable plan to prevent its spread and inform the public about the dangers of contagion.
According to the United Nations, about 350,000 people are HIV positive in the country. Catholic sources says the number is at least 1 million.
For Mgr Kikuchi, "many Chinese colleagues expressed great concern over this problem during the Manila Conference.” The latter “touched internal migration, since many workers are infected in the city and then take it to the countryside where they come from. For this reason, they (Chinese delegates) want more contacts with the Catholic Asia Pacific Coalition on HIV and AIDS (CAPCHA) to which a number of Caritas organisations belong.”
Natural disaster response is another major area of cooperation. “China,” the bishop said, “is part of our 'common' house, i.e. planet Earth, and therefore it is not exempt from natural disasters and the effects of climate change.”
Indeed, “China’s territory is vast, and has a large population,” he added. “Diocesan organisations are limited in terms of resources and experience.” For its part, “Caritas Internationalis has no political objectives. It only wants to work with Chinese groups, to support them in case of disastrous natural phenomena."
Such cooperation, however, remains in the hands of the Chinese government, which has always been ambivalent towards NGOs. On the one hand, it fears their social influence; on the other, it needs the help of the "third sector" in areas such as care for seniors, orphans and the sick.
Under President Xi Jinping, a draft proposal on NGOs released in June 2015 seem to have some answers. If it were adopted, it would however impose new and more burdensome controls on these groups.
According to the draft legislation, NGOs based outside China must obtain prior approval from the police before they can operate on the country. They will have to employ "at least half of the staff" from a government-approved agency and under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They must present a budget and disclose all financial transactions. They cannot receive funds from abroad.
Obviously, the obligation to have a "patron", from a government agency or department that guarantees for their conduct, remains unchanged.
The Civil Affairs Ministry issued the current rules in 2012. The latter require that all NGOs publish the exact details all their financial transactions.
In addition, the Ministry requires each charity to publish costs and revenues during fundraising campaigns that last longer than three months, followed by a more detailed final report.
Furthermore, "the foundations should not use their name, image or projects for non-charitable purposes”.
Finally, faith-based NGOs must be recognised by both the local and the central State Administration for Religious Affairs.