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If it's good for the Church, it's good for Faith Weekly

A barometer of relations between China and Vatican

Faith Weekly, a national Catholic newspaper in mainland China Faith Weekly, a national Catholic newspaper in mainland China
  • ucanews.com reporter, Shijiazhuang
  • China
  • November 25, 2011
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The ups and downs of Sino-Vatican relations are mirrored in the fortunes of Faith Weekly, a national Catholic newspaper published by Hebei Faith Press.

“Our subscription rate is like a barometer," says Father John Baptist Zhang, Hebei Faith Press founder. "It reflects very accurately the sensitive situation of the China Church."

“It also shows clearly that the paper is closely tied to the fate of the Church in China and the religious sentiment of Chinese Catholics.”

Launched in 1991, Faith Weekly was suspended altogether in 1997 but re-opened in 1998, when China and the Vatican re-entered into dialogue. With hopes of establishing diplomatic ties running high, the paper’s annual circulation reached its first peak of 57,000 copies.

Then, in 2000, five bishops were ordained without papal mandate and China criticized the canonization of 120 Chinese martyr-saints. As the relationship lost its warmth, the paper lost 12,000 subscribers.

After the election of a new pope, subscriptions in 2006 again topped 50,000 copies. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Catholics in China, urging reconciliation. One result of that gesture was another hike in readership.

The upward trend continued to a peak of 61,000 copies but, amid a series of fallouts between Church and state, figures headed down again in 2008-2009.

“Our bulk subscriptions are usually renewed between December and February, before the Chinese Lunar New Year around January and February. Even slight friction between the Vatican and China during this period affects it,” says the newly appointed director of Hebei Faith Press, Father Joseph Li Rongpin.

“Faith Weekly is an innocent victim whenever there are tensions.”

Fr Li is also aware that the recent blooming of diocesan newspapers has made an impact on Faith Weekly figures. It is estimated that there are more than 30 newspapers and a dozen journals circulating in the China Church.

“Since most of them are offered free, and most are diocesan, readers find them more relevant to their lives. This is clearly an advantage for local papers,” he says.

However, with this year’s subscriptions holding steady at 50,000 copies, the publishers are pleased to be able to record a pattern of overall growth since the paper’s inception.

And although they have kept a prudently low profile in the paper’s 20th anniversary year, letting it pass without celebration, they are able to look positively into the future.

In September, they changed gear from publication every 10 days to weekly. The editors have enhanced the content, differentiating it from local competitors with more commentary on social issues from a moral standpoint, as well as more in-depth reporting.

“I’m optimistic,” says Fr Li.  “Having so much competition motivates us to strive for improvement.”

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