12/13/2004, 00.00
China - vatican
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Christmas Midnight Mass for a fee at the Beijing Cathedral

Catholics appalled by the decision taken by the Patriotic Association and Bishop Fu Tieshan, who are currently engaged in reforming the diocese's administration.  A 50 yuan entry fee is also a way to stem the interest of young people in Christianity.

Beijing (AsiaNews) -- Members of the faithful will have to pay 50 yuan to attend Midnight Mass at Beijing's Cathedral, the Church of the Immaculate Conception (Nan Tang), on Christmas Eve.

AsiaNews sources in China's capital have confirmed that yesterday, following the 6 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral, which was built on the location of Matteo Ricci's home), a priest announced that "those who wish to attend Holy Mass on Christmas Eve will need a ticket, which they can purchase with a minimum offer of 50 yuan.  The ticket will be marked with the buyer's name and telephone number".

Initial reactions from members of the faithful have been strong.  For some, the Patriotic Association which, through its president, Msgr Michael Fu Tieshan, is in the process of reforming the diocese's administration, "has gone crazy" because it wants people to shell out such a large sum.  Fifty yuan (approximately 5 euros) is a big expense, especially for pensioners who collect somewhere between 300 and 400 yuan per month: a 50 yuan offer amounts to 1/6 or 1/8 of their monthly income.  This means for many elderly Catholics being condemned to forgoing Mass.

Parishioners are also concerned about non-Christians: "What about non-believers who would like to attend Mass on Christmas Eve?  They'll think we want to fleece them!"

For some time now, thousands of non-Christians, especially university students, have been filling churches in Beijing each year on Christmas Eve.  At least 65% of post-secondary students in fact say they are interested in learning about Christianity.  Their attendance at Midnight Mass stems from the curiosity to learn more about Christmas celebrations and to discover who Jesus is and what Christianity means.  Many often find themselves struck by the liturgy, hymns and fraternal atmosphere, and ask about signing up for catechism to be able to be baptized.

The government has for some time been warning young people about the "spiritual pollution" arriving from the West, especially through Christmas celebrations.  It is for this reason that in recent years, authorities have been forcing parishes to restrict access to Midnight Mass to those who obtain a ticket.  Tickets are given only to those who declare themselves to be Catholic.  But until last year, tickets were distributed free of charge.  This year, even non-Christians who want to learn about Christmas will have to pay 50 yuan.  The entry free will make it especially difficult for students, who often have limited financial means, to attend Midnight Mass.

The Patriotic Association is justifying the entry fee by claiming public order and security reasons.  For Catholics in Beijing, the decision to charge an entry fee to participate in Christmas celebrations is "shameful".  Catholics in the capital do not hold the official Church's bishop, Msgr Fu, in very high esteem: he has always refused reconciliation with the Vatican and, in 2000, was the figure behind the irregular ordination of various bishops.  They also blame the Bishop for the "Mass for a fee" phenomenon, which is turning the diocese into an advantageous business for him, so much so that Beijing Diocese has come to be known ironically as the "Fu dian": Msgr Fu Tieshan's shop. 
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