11/26/2011, 00.00
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Religious freedom for China's future

by Bernardo Cervellera
The arrest, kidnapping and self-immolation of Tibetan monks are only one of the many faces with which China reasserts its power over religion. Even Catholic priests suffer arrests, control, the disappearances of bishops, disdain for the Pope and the Holy See. Religious awareness is growing in Chinese society, but Beijing is trying to wipe it out. Yet, only religion can save China from implosion.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Once again news of more arrests of Tibetan monks has reached us, after the terrible images of young monks and nuns who set themselves on fire for freedom. The violence against the Tibetan communities is only one aspect of the machine that dominates religions in China and tries to destroy them. The arrests of Tibetan monks and nuns is coupled with the arrest of underground Church priests (at least ten according to AsiaNews sources), sentenced to the Laogai, forced labor or "reform through labor", for simply having held a spiritual retreat for university students, or having given last rites to an old woman in hospital.

Along with the seizure of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, 21, the Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama - the youngest prisoner of conscience in the world – in the 90’s, there was also the detention of two Catholic bishops, Msgr. James Su Zhimin of Baoding, 80, and Msgr. Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian, 88 years old, maybe the oldest prisoners of conscience, isolated in an unfamiliar place for refusing to renege on their bonds with the Pope.

The same can be said of the controls of Tibetan monasteries and faithful, in parallel with the control of the masses and gatherings of Catholics; the ban on all religious publications, the free diffusion of beliefs, on meetings between local and foreign faithful, on invitations to professors and teachers from abroad: all subject to the control of the Patriotic Association and the suspicion that any religious gathering is in itself a conspiracy against the nation: the Pope and the Dalai Lama are both seen as two foreign powers that want to undermine national unity.

In essence, there is one big difference between Catholics and Tibetans: Tibetan irredentism also has a territorial claim, independence or autonomy. Catholics do not have any territorial claims and live throughout China, choosing it as their home. Another difference is that Catholics have never been guilty of acts of violence against the Beijing government, while in these decades of Tibetan occupation, there have been attacks, riots, deaths, often caused by the Chinese police or army .

Despite these differences - indeed, precisely because of these differences – Beijing’s stronghold on religious freedom is even more incomprehensible, its controls and its contempt towards the pope and the Catholic faith. Only a few months ago - in June and July - there were two Episcopal ordinations in Leshan (Sichuan) and Shantou (Guangdong), carried out against the will of the Holy See, with bishops deliberately seized to force them to participate in an act contrary to their faith and bond of communion with the pope.

The point is that a dictatorship can not permit the luxury of allowing even the minimum amount of space slip beyond its control. For this reason, one’s relationship with God, with the pope, prayers to the Dalai Lama, the exhibition of his photos are considered subversive elements. China knows that religious freedom is a small path from which respect for the person and all human rights flows. Therefore, the liberalization of religion signifies undertaking political reforms inside and outside the party, which has promised more reforms, but has never kept those promises, preferring instead to support a rule of law of corruption, anarchy and tyranny.

For quite some time now China has been teetering on this very precipice – to reform or not – pulling back from the drop to dust off Maoist chants and Cultural Revolution-style repression. But it must act quickly: hundreds of millions of people in China, disappointed by the party injustices and suffocating materialism, are turning to religion. And many dissidents have discovered that the Christian faith - the God who loves man - is the secure foundation of human rights. If the leadership does not decide to make that jump soon, it will be forced to do so by the implosion towards which society is hurtling. Then, only religions, with their power of reconciliation, will be able to stop the destruction and violence.

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