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Government memo on Christian activities holds little threat and few surprises

China Catholics unruffled by evangelism ban

Government memo on Christian activities holds little threat and few surprises
This centrally issued document effectively blocks missionary activities on campus reporter, Beijing

December 21, 2012

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Catholic university students, youth workers and clergy are shrugging off a secret official document that prohibits missionary activities in Chinese colleges and universities.

The US-based ChinaAid recently made headlines when it revealed the document, which the central committee of the Communist Party and the State Council issued to all relevant government departments in May 2011.

The document said it is an “important and urgent task” to resist foreign penetration in campuses through the use of religion and missionary activities.

It went on to tell educational bodies that they were legally obliged to block such activities, and to stop missioners from promoting themselves to students at the start of school terms or to present themselves purely as volunteer services.

According to ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization, the document is aimed primarily at the Protestant Church.

But Father Joseph, who is responsible for Catholic youth ministry in Hebei province, said the document contained no great surprises and nothing unexpected from the Chinese government. He also doubted how effective the anti-Christian efforts could be.

“The authorities should realize that nowadays people won’t listen easily to what you say," he said. "It's impossible to control people’s thoughts any more unless we return to an era without TV and the internet.”

He added that the current lack of systematic formation in China is a greater source of worry than the document. “After 15 to 20 years, our parishes will be left empty,” he said.

In Zhejiang province, a student who identified himself only as Luke said he too was not surprised at the news. “Isn’t the communist regime always doing this? We have got used to it,” he said.

Ming Yuan, a student in Shandong province, expressed the opinion that the central government’s directives would not be followed through at the lower levels. “It will not affect our activities," he said. "It simply reflects the immaturity of the government’s religious policy.”

In Gansu province, youth leader Matthew Wang said he agreed with ChinaAid's assertion that the document targeted Protestants more than Catholics, whom he described as “inactive evangelizers, who only post notices to find fellow believers among the new students or to invite classmates to their gatherings.”

He added that “our students in general are afraid to manifest their religion as it may draw discrimination and curiosity from others, who could then bring them trouble.”  

However, he also voiced his objection to the government's intentions, pointing out that citizens over 18 are legally entitled to choose their religion.

“Why ban only evangelization on campus but not cohabitation or abortion?" he asked. "Why is there no official document to deal with the psychological problems of students, when there are so many suicides each year? This is outright discrimination against religious faith and the Church.”

Xiao Tianshi, a recent graduate in Xi’an city, advised that student evangelizers can avoid problems by being careful and flexible. "They can organize activities privately but not with great fanfare,” she said. "The most important thing of all is not to confront the party."

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