Beijing prints 240 million Bibles, permits or prosecution for distribution
The general secretary of the Universal Bible Alliance on a visit to China met with the leaders of the official churches, reviving cooperation. But meanwhile in Hohhot some Christians go on trial for "illegally" buying and distributing copies of Scripture printed in Nanjing at the plant visited by Pastor Gevers.
Milan (AsiaNews) - Two contradictory news stories have emerged from China that-when read together-perfectly demonstrate the two faces of the situation of Christians in the country.
Official organs have given ample prominence in recent days to an important event: the visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing of Dick Gevers, the Pentecostal pastor from South Africa who since last November has been secretary general of the Universal Biblical Alliance, the body that sees Biblical Societies from all over the world collaborating with one another with the aim of spreading Scripture in every language in every part of the world.
Promoted by the Chinese Christian Council and the Three Self Patriotic Movement-the official bodies of the Protestant world in China-the visit of the secretary of the Universal Biblical Alliance is certainly not unprecedented.
For more than 30 years, in fact, there has been a collaboration that has its most obvious face in the Nanjing Amity Printing Co. plant, a large printing house in Nanjing that is the result of a joint venture between a Chinese foundation directly linked to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and the Universal Biblical Alliance.
Active since 1988, it produces Bibles not only for Chinese communities but also for Christian denominations around the world.
On its website, a counter offers a real-time update of printed copies: as of April 1 there were more than 246 million: 89 million for China, the others in every language in 140 countries around the world.
Gevers' visit was an opportunity to consolidate this cooperation project, which now also has a satellite plant in Ethiopia. In Beijing he had the opportunity to meet with Chen Ruifeng, the new of the Religious Affairs Administration (Sara), as well as with the leadership of official Catholic bodies.
The official website of the Patriotic Association reported Gevers' meeting with Shen Bin, the bishop of Haimen who is chairman of the Chinese Council of Bishops (the collegial body not recognized by the Holy See).
Indeed, the Catholic community, too, has been able to benefit from the effort made by the Universal Biblical Alliance to disseminate Scripture in China.
In the interview with Shen Bin, there was no shortage of emphasis on how translations are an aspect of "Sinicization," the watchword given to the world of religions by President Xi Jinping.
Just as all this was happening, however, Bitter Winter issued a call to prayer circulating in China these hours among "domestic," that is, unofficial, Protestant communities. It concerns a legal proceeding underway in Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
This month some local Christians belonging to these communities will go on trial for "illegally" distributing Bibles and face up to 15 years in prison.
What is interesting is that-in their defense-the defendants report these are precisely copy Bibles printed by the Nanjing Amity Printing Co. purchased in bulk and distributed to those who could not afford them, without any commercial activity.
In this case, therefore, the "illegality" would simply lie in the fact that promoting the dissemination of Scripture in Chinese are communities that are not registered and controlled by the government. Which confirms - once again - what the real meaning of Beijing's insistence on "Sinicization" is.