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Updated: February 20, 1997 05:00 PM GMT
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The death of Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping, under whose policies the Church in China revived, will not alter the established policy of religious freedom, say Catholic and Protestant Church leaders there.

Government-recognized Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide of Jinan and Zhoucun, president of the official Catholic bishops´ conference in China, lauded Deng for reforms that have brought much progress to the country and the Church.

"The lives of the people are getting better and better," he told UCA News Feb. 20, "and the Church can now resume normal religious activities and people can enjoy freedom of religion."

Deng´s death Feb. 19 evening was officially announced early the next morning. The 92-year-old senior communist comrade died of respiratory-circulatory failure due to complications of advanced Parkinson´s Disease.

A political casualty of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Deng regained his influence after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

By 1979 he established himself as China´s paramount leader, after which he did away with extreme leftist policies and launched reforms.

"It is under the Communist Party of China´s (CPC) document number 19 in Deng´s government that many religious leaders and followers were rehabilitated," said Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The document, "The Basic View Point and Policy on the Religious Question During Our Country´s Socialist Period," promulgated in 1982, spells out the fundamental policy of respecting and protecting religious freedom.

Both leaders agreed that Deng´s economic reforms have contributed to the growth of the Church in the past decade.

"Under the reform policies, we can maintain contact with the Church overseas more freely," Bishop Zong said. "With more donations from the outside Church, the local Church can establish social services," he noted.

"As Catholics also benefit from the reform policies, many have donated money to build churches," Liu said, "We can reopen seminaries and send seminarians to study abroad. Overseas theologians can also teach in our seminaries."

Han Wenzao, president of the Protestant Chinese Christian Council, also credits Deng for restoring religion after the devastating Cultural Revolution.

Han, Liu and Bishop Zong expressed confidence that the existing religious policies would not be affected by the post-Deng era leadership.

Their view was affirmed by An Baozhi, foreign affairs division chief of the government´s Religious Affairs Bureau, who told UCA News Feb. 20 that there will not be any change in the long-term religious policy.

Tang Yijie, professor of philosophy at Beijing University, noted that no change in religious policy was likely in the short run, since the government has other more pressing issues to deal with.

According to Bishop Zong, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, whom Deng promoted as his successor, has been friendly toward the religious sector.

Since 1993, either Jiang or his deputy has met with religious leaders every Lunar New Year to listen to their problems and solicit their opinions.

According to Liu, a gradual transition of power has been completed. He did not foresee any possibility of major social instability or change of policy direction under Jiang, whom he said is willing to listen to others´ opinions.

Deng, born in 1904 in Sichuan province, southwestern China, was one of the last few surviving founders of the People´s Republic of China. Before his retirement in 1989, he was chairman of the CPC´s Central Military Commission.

He left his successor with two difficult tasks -- the aftermath of the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement on June 4, 1989, and political reform in the wake of a series of progressive economic reforms.

Bishop Zong said Church personnel, like the rest of the country, observed silence Feb. 20 to show their profound grief over the late leader´s death.


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