03/29/2016, 14.48
CHINA

The miracle of conversions and baptisms in China

by Wang Zhicheng

An estimated 20,000 people were baptised on Easter night. Just outside Shanghai, 27 baptised people join a community of 100. Rampant materialism and individualism drive people to convert. Underground communities celebrated Easter without songs and in small groups.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – On Easter night, more than 100 adults were baptised in Beijing’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (pictured). Wrapped in a white robe, accompanied by godparents, they confessed their adherence to faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose again, baptised by Archbishop Joseph Li Shan.

The same ritual was repeated in all of China’s Catholic churches during Easter eve vigil. In recent years, more than 20,000 new believers are baptised at this time of the year.

Some 27 baptisms took place in a parish just outside of Shanghai, in an area home to almost a million people. The local congregation includes only a hundred members; hence, with the newcomers who joined on Easter night, the community has grown by more than 25 per cent.

Christmas, Pentecost and the Assumption provide other occasions for baptisms. About 100,000 adult baptisms occur each year in the Catholic Church.

The number of annual baptisms in underground Protestant Churches (not subordinated to the government-controlled Three Autonomies Movement) is even higher.

For the government, in particular the Religious Affairs Ministry, the rising number of Christians in the country is a source of concern. Some estimates put the number of Christians at around 100 million, more than the number of members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), estimated to be around 85 million.

For some observers, the Communist Party itself is to blame for the growth of Christianity in the country. As theoretical and practical materialism drive people to seek wealth and consumption, people are left bereft of meaning.

For many of the newly baptised, economic wellbeing “was not enough”. They sought “something deeper”, i.e. “non-material values”. A bishop in central China described this as “a great thirst for God”.

Materialism has led to widespread individualism and exploitation. Many people – especially migrants who moved to the cities to work – feel alone and with no one to help them. Paid low wages, they are treated like slaves.

"After I met some Catholics, I felt accepted and welcomed as a person with dignity, not valued for my wealth or poverty,” said one of the newly baptised.

This year’s Easter celebrations took place without tensions. Police told believers to carry out their services "without singing and in small groups”, and even underground communities were able to hold Masses and liturgical services without much of a fuss.

In Zhejiang, where crosses and churches have been targeted for demolition, Zhang Kai, a Protestant lawyer was released not long ago after six months in jail.

Detained for defending his co-religionists against abuses, he thanked “Wenzhou police for taking care of me all this time".

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