Officials of the Catholic Church in China say their church is growing,
despite internal tensions that have split the church into rival
factions. Some Catholics accept the role of the Chinese government in
religious affairs, while others - members of the so-called underground
church - reject it. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Beijing, there are
efforts under way to bring the sides together.
There are five
services, or masses, each Sunday at Beijing's historic South Cathedral,
also known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of
20 official Catholic churches in the city.
Father Matthew Zhen Xuebin, secretary-general of the Catholic Church of the Beijing diocese, spoke there with reporters about the church's challenges.
says that as China grows richer, fewer young men are choosing to enter
the priesthood. He says there are 55 priests in the Beijing diocese
serving from 60,000 to 100,000 Catholics. Some priests are elderly and
others are studying abroad. The diocese has just 20 seminarians
preparing for the priesthood.
Yet this church, founded by Jesuit missionaries 400 years ago, is the center of a thriving Catholic community.
Catholics meet in secret. After the communist revolution, ties with
the Vatican in Rome were forcibly broken, and the church was placed
under a Chinese Patriotic Association.
This led to a divided
church, with some priests, bishops and laity refusing to take part in
official worship. Underground worshippers are subject to harassment or
There are five million members of the official Catholic
Church. The Vatican estimates that as many or more Catholics worship
But there have been informal contacts between Beijing
and Rome in recent years, and some leaders of the official church have
reconciled with the Vatican. In a 2007 letter, Pope Benedict urged
healing among divided Chinese Catholics, and asked the government to
resume dialogue and respect religious freedom.
diocesan official Father Zhen says the Chinese government and Vatican
have their differences. He will not talk about these issues, but says
China's Catholics are faithful to the Roman Catholic tradition.
Catholic Church, the priests, the religious [members of religious
orders] and the faithful [ordinary Catholics] are very faithful to the
Roman Catholic Church and are very faithful to the pope," said Father
Zhen. "In fact, in China I would say the Chinese Catholic Church is the
most faithful to the church and to the pope, Benedict."
interview Wednesday with Italian television, Beijing Catholic Bishop
Joseph Li Shan said relations with the Vatican are improving and that
he would welcome a papal visit to China. A Vatican official called the
invitation encouraging, but premature.
Chinese churches are prevented from active outreach, but the Beijing diocese receives 1,500 converts every year.
sisters, Li Xiaojing and Li Yajing, are university students and
practicing Catholics. Xiaojing is 21 years old and studies
communications technology. She says she comes to mass often at Beijing
South Cathedral, as she did one recent morning.
today, it is Sunday," said Xiaojing. "This is the day of our God. So I
come here. I like the atmosphere. It is very lovely."
Li Yajing, 22, studies electrical engineering, and finds solace in these Sunday services.
a student, I have a lot of stress and I feel very depressed sometimes,"
said Yajing. "But when I come to the church, I feel very happy."
Benedict said in his 2007 letter that China has only one Catholic
Church, and he urged an end to tensions, divisions and recriminations.
activities are still tightly controlled in China, and Internet Web
sites of groups that criticize China's policies on religion remain
But Catholics at this Beijing cathedral see conditions
improving and say they are hopeful that their faith, with its long
history, has a place in China's future.