Updated: September 25, 2017 11:10 AM GMT
A file image of a laywoman praying at Our Lady of Sheshan Basilica in Shanghai on May 24, 2013. (Photo by Peter Parks/AFP)
In China, every religion, especially the Catholic Church, uses the summer vacation or Sundays to offer faith formation to children with religious beliefs. This kind of formation is normal practice in many countries.
However, without knowing why, at the beginning of this summer, local authorities in China asked their parishes not to run any prepared catechism classes.
This has occurred in the past but it appeared in a very sudden and baffling way this year.
It is difficult to stop people from disturbing and interfering with each others' lives. In Chinese society, such kind of disturbances more directly reflect aspects of politics and rather than religious beliefs. At the moment, Chinese politics is being directly reflected by the questions raised by teachers to their students' parents, in online chat groups.
From kindergarten to high school, teachers are asking, at the behest of the state, each student's parent whether they have sent their children to these camps.
It is very strange that the education bureau does not care about students fooling around at internet cafes or participating in all kinds of additional classes, when it has promised to reduce the students' burden, but that it inexplicably forbids students to join any summer camps with a religious background.
So the situation remains unreasonable: a school can instill minors with politically driven atheism yet teachers would be fired if a child was found reciting several verses of the Quran.
I once wrote that the official Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily had devised a political plan related to Children's Day that falls on June 1 in China, meaning the annual celebration for children has been given a political mission too.
Fortunately, children are too young to care whether there is a mission or not and just enjoy playing. The difficult mission is left to their teachers.
However, the great pity in China today is that school teachers under such circumstance often turn into machines that actively perform their given tasks, without adequate discernment or human reflection.
To my mind the benefits of religious education on humanity is beyond doubt. Citizens should have the freedom to choose any religion they would like to believe in and to receive faith formation.
Yet there is now a sense of panic among religious believers as the administrative department has forced churches to stop faith formation classes, and the education bureau forces each teacher to interfere with the parents directly. Of course, Christian parents are unwilling to blindly deny the positive values that their religious belief could have on their children but in today's environment most do not dare to question the unjustifiable ban on bringing children to church. The price for resistance to this could be very high, as their children would not be able to study at university or get a good job.
The truth is, despite government assurances to the contrary, religious beliefs are treated with suspicion by the Chinese authorities. Most faithful have a "semi-open" mindset toward their religion. That is, faith is often suppressed in people's minds or only confined to religious venues. People generally hide away their faith.
Many Catholic university students hide their religion consciously from their peers, fearing being scorned or rejected because of their faith.
There are also influential voices inside the official churches using "evangelization" as a pretext to avoid the real problem. For example, they would say they could not keep up with evangelization work as they would not have time to "discuss politics like intellectuals" and "comment on current affairs."
Such practice of "burying one's head in the sand" comes from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China and is spread to seminaries.
So, when politics does interfere with their faith life, they do not have the strength and courage to counter it. Instead they try to get accustomed to it and then advocate that this is the best way for religions to survive. Even when the children are banned from going to church, they would lightly pat the heads of the children and tell the parents, "Never mind. Come secretly. After the [political] wind passes, there will be nothing to worry about."
In fact, genuine education is education of religious faith because it touches the soul and nature of a human being. But we Christians in China often manifest our faith like playing "hide and seek."
A lamp should not be put under a bowl. It should be placed on a stand and offer a glimpse of light to those who live in darkness or under the shadow of death. Facing all kinds of darkness and obstructions in society, the faith of the church should always reveal its positive attitude and position.
Under the impact of the recent overwhelming campaign by the government, teachers are exerting these restrictions on students and their parents. There has been scant resistance save an author — called himself "Father Lu" — who wrote to a popular Catholic website Tianzhujiao Zaixian complaining about the religious policies. Apart from him, the China Church is keeping mute even though the alarm has rung.
The church should not let lay Catholics bear this kind of oppression on their conscience. The truth has the ability to confront absurdity and the Christian faith should not hang on the sleeve of Chinese politics.
Father Shanren is the pen name of a priest in China.