Church to be built in the birthplace of Communism

The Chinese Catholic community in Yan'an, a city in the Shaanxi province in China, is celebrating a landmark decision that has allowed it to build its first church in more than 70 years.

The move is being touted by religious freedom experts as another sign of religious revival taking over the country

Yan'an is recognised as the centre of the Chinese communist revolution from 1935 to 1948, and Chinese communists celebrate Yan'an as the birthplace of the revolution.

Now, after years of negotiations between the city's small but growing community of Christians, and the Communist Party leaders, an agreement has been reached that will allow a church to be built in the suburbs of the city, Christian Today reported.

The development is in stark contrast to seven decades ago, when Christians fled the city's cathedral as Chairman Mao arrived at the end of the Long March, a massive military retreat undertaken by the Red Armies of the Communist Party of China in the mid-1930's.

The old cathedral in the southern part of Yan'an was completed in 1934 but was abandoned the following year. It was then used as a meeting hall by Mao.

The Church has repeatedly asked for it back but authorities have refused. However, they have now eventually agreed to compensate the Catholics and are allowing them land in a less prominent location outside the city centre.

Fr Peter Zhang, a priest who ministers to approximately 600 Catholics in the town, said that it was a sacred place to the Communist Party.

He also said he believed there were more secret believers in the city who were too scared to come out before, but who he now hoped would have the confidence to reveal themselves and join the new church.

"People who lived through the Cultural Revolution still worry that they might face another disaster like that. But I don't think that will happen. Before, the party opposed landlords too, and opposed scholars, and now they want everyone to own property and get educated," Fr Zhang said.

China is a country experiencing huge growth in Christianity. Chinese Government figures say that 16 million Protestants and six million Catholics are registered with the two state-approved churches. However, it is believed that up tens of millions more worship in unregistered 'underground' churches.

However, Asia News have reported that brain washing Catholic priests to convince them of the "error of their ways" is taking place in Nanning, a major city of the autonomous Guangxi region, in south west China, where the government has launched a campaign to counter the Vatican "penetration" in the life of the Church.

On June 30th, Pope Benedict published a Letter to the Catholics of China with which he exhorted them to live the Christian mission and witness for the good of their country and to draw closet the underground and official Church, asking all of those involved to witness with greater courage their unity with the Holy See.

In turn, with cordial and respectful terms, the pontiff requested that Chinese authorities respect the religious freedom of the faithful and the appointment of bishops.

Beijing's reaction to the Letter at the time of its publishing was bland, but according to AsiaNews, sources the documents distribution has been gravely impeded in a variety of ways.

Guangxi: stop the Pope's Letter, even by brain washing Asia News 9, 2007
Chinese Christians celebrate first church permission in 70 years, Christian Today October 9, 2007

10 Oct 2007