12/10/2007, 00.00
CHINA
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Mgr Lu Shouwang, bishop of the Three Gorges Dam

The life of the Church in Yichang has been disrupted by the pharaonic hydro-electric project, which has drawn many Catholic migrants from the countryside in addition to foreign and Chinese tourists. The new bishop has set up tens of “prayer points,” largely run by lay people, to respond to pastoral needs of his faithful.

Yichang (AsiaNews) – The newly-ordained bishop of Yichang, Mgr Francis Lu Shouwang, added a drawing of the Three Gorges Dam to his crest. His mission and that of the Church in his diocese have been marked by the presence of this pharaonic hydro-electric project.

Monsignor Lu was ordained last 30 November with the approval of the Holy See and the consent of the central government in Beijing. Coming from various dioceses about a thousand faithful gathered in St Francis Cathedral for the ceremony. Government officials were also present.

The new bishop did not mention the Pope’s approval during the ceremony, but sources tell AsiaNews that right before his ordination Monsignor Lu gave all the priests present at the ceremony a copy of the Holy See’s approval.

Yichang is located along the Yang Tze River, in Hubei province, an area called “China’s greatest concentration of hydroelectric resources.”

The Three Gorges Dam rises some 40 kilometres upriver—hence the bishop’s decision to add the dam to his Episcopal crest. In an interview with Ucanews, he said that the construction of the dam has transformed his diocese.

The construction of the dam, which is the biggest in the world, began in 1994 and should end in 2010.

The dam itself is 185 metres (607 ft) high and about 2.3 metres (7,661 ft) long. Even though it has not yet reached its full capacity it can already generate 84.7 TWh a year.

Environmentalists and some government officials are afraid that a giant environmental catastrophe could take place.

Up to now some five million residents have been relocated to create the dam basin and avoid landslide and floods.

Since the project started millions of people have also moved from the countryside to the cities seeking employment.

Most of the 30,000 Catholics who live in the diocese are farmers, but the young and many adults are moving to Yichang to study. “The pastoral work for all this migrant population is an important challenge,” said the bishop.

In addition to parish churches, the diocese has set up “prayer points” to gather the faithful. Altogether the diocese has 21 priests, six seminarians and 12 nuns, but the laity plays an important role in pastoral activities in the “prayer points.”

In addition to Hubei’s migrant population thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists come to the city to visit the dam.

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