12/19/2006, 00.00
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Chinese state TV acknowledges Catholic numbers rising

According to official figures, China has five million Catholics. Unofficial sources estimate the real figure to be much higher. Mass baptisms involving hundreds are common, especially among the young. Official state agencies are unable to control this renaissance.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Roman Catholicism is growing in China, especially among the young, this according to China Central Television (CCTV), China’s main, state-run, national TV network. In a report broadcast yesterday, it presented the story of a young convert (Click here to see the video), Liu Huimin, 26, who works in the marketing department of an IT Company.

“As a Catholic, I've learned how to love other people and how to help those in need, especially in a way that makes them comfortable in accepting your offer,” he said.

Baptised a year and a half ago, Huimin attends Nan Tang Cathedral (the South Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception), Beijing’s oldest church.

Baptisms are frequent but the one featured on Sunday was special. It was the biggest ever baptism in the country. The CCTV report showed 165 people undergoing the ceremony.

Coming to church to worship is an important part of his life. He said he used to be a self-centered man, but learning to see things from others' perspective has changed him.

Huimin admits that he was frustrated when he first embraced the religion but with the help of Catholic family he was able to overcome it.

For Sister Theresa Ying Mulan, superior of St. Joseph Convent in Beijing Diocese, “for the first time it is possible to communicate one’s faith” without too many problems, partly because of “[e]xplicit support from the government and regulations written into the Constitution” that “protect religious practice. Today's baptisms explain everything.”

CCTV, which is controlled by the government’s Radio, TV and Cinema Administration, is not editorially independent. Its news department follows directives set by the Communist Party’s propaganda department, analysts say.

This makes it the more important that it acknowledged a Catholic renaissance in China independent of governmental agencies like the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

According to CCTV, the country’s Catholic community numbers some five million members, but unofficially AsiaNews and the diocese of Hong Kong estimate the real number to be closer to 12 million.

Many are forced to meet in places of worship different from those of the official Church. In spite of formal constitutional protection official Churches are guaranteed a minimum level of freedom of religion, but underground worshipers still face violence and arrest.

Meanwhile the official Church is stepping up its Christmas-related activities. In St Peter’s Church in Shanghai, a medieval English Christmas play was presented last Sunday. About 120 people took part, of all ages, walks of life and social status, hailing from 15 countries as different from one another as Australia and Zambia. A one-month old baby, the youngest parishioner, played the role of the Christ Child.

The character of Paul Xu Guangqi, an official from the Ming Dynasty, was included in the story. Converted by Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest, the two translated into Chinese European texts on mathematics, hydraulics and geography.

Paul Xu Guangqi is remembered as the first Chinese to translate European books into his native language. (PB)

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