10/23/2006, 00.00
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Anglican leader urges Chinese Christians to "develop an inner freedom"

The Archbishop of Canterbury ends his two-week trip to mainland China. During his stay he noted a "growing spirit of openness". But last year, Beijing arrested almost two thousands non official protestants.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the world's Anglican Communion, urged Chinese Christians yesterday to develop the "inner freedom" needed to serve their country's real needs. The primate, who leads the world's 77 million Anglicans, read a sermon during a religious function in a Protestant church in the capital's Chaoyang district.

"Christians must develop an inner freedom," Archbishop Williams said, "a freedom that allows them to see the truth about themselves and their society." He explained that only through inner freedom, gained through prayer and reflection, would Christians know what the country's real needs were. "It is very important there are people in this country with that kind of freedom, people who are able to say the question is not only about economic prosperity, [but] about human dignity," he added.

Williams is the most senior Church of England prelate to visit China in more than a decade. He arrived in China two weeks ago and leaves today after visiting Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan, Xian and Beijing at the invitation of Chinese officials.

During the archbishop's visit he met local and national leaders and discussed issues ranging from censorship and the death penalty to the aging population and industrial development.

Before leaving he said mainland's Christians should willingly support the goal of "harmony" laid out this month by the Communist Party.

On the trip, the archbishop also said that he noted a "growing spirit of openness" in China, with "a surprising level of debate about public matters," he said.

"It is no longer true—if it ever was true—that being Christian is to stop being really Chinese," he said. "We are encouraged to see a church that is trying to find its own way forward honestly, to find a language that really belongs to this place".

Beijing has allowed Protestant worship, but only within the Three-Self Patriotic Movement that emerged in the 1950s after Mao took over and expelled foreign missionaries and Church leaders.

Officially there are ten million Protestants affiliated with official Protestants Churches within the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Unofficially, Protestants might be as many as 50 million in home churches.

Last year, the government arrested 1958 pastors and worshippers belonging to non official churches.

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