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Church Sites Among China´s World Heritage Submissions


July 16 2004

The Chinese government has listed three Church sites in Macau among its nominations for the World Heritage List in 2005.

"Historical monuments of Macau" are China´s only nominees for the United Nations-designated world cultural heritage status in 2005. The Chinese government made the announcement during the 28th Conference of World Heritage, held June 28-July 7 in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, eastern China.

Among the 12 sites proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage List are two Catholic churches and the ruins of a third. They date from the first centuries of Portuguese colonial rule 1553-1999. The World Heritage List currently comprises 788 sites around the globe, 30 of them in China.

According to the Macau government´s Cultural Institute homepage, a group of UNESCO specialists will inspect the sites and the results will be announced at the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee in 2005.

A staffperson of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage told UCA News July 13 that the Chinese central government submitted Macau´s bid to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 2001, since "Macau is part of China´s jurisdiction."

According to the Cultural Institute, the nominated "Historical Monuments of Macau" include the Church of the Seminary of Sao Jose (St. Joseph), Ruins of St. Paul and Chapel of Nossa Senhora (Our Lady) da Guia inside the Guia fortress. If approved, the sites will be the first Catholic world heritage sites on Chinese soil.

Father Pedro Chung Chi-kin, vicar general of Macau diocese, told UCA News the diocese had been involved in conservation work for some old Church buildings, including the Church of the Seminary of Sao Jose.

He expressed hope that once UNESCO recognition is achieved, the government would grant more funding to the diocese to carry out the conservation work.

Father Chung pointed out that although the diocese was not involved in the application to UNESCO, it supports the government´s initiative.

"It would be a good opportunity for people in Macau to recognize the importance of local Church history and the Church´s role in the exchange of Eastern and Western cultures," he added.

The priest explained that apart from gambling, Macau depends heavily on its cultural heritage for international attention, so the success of the government´s application would have significant meaning for local residents.

Raymond Ho Pui-chi, chairman of Macau Association of Catholic Laity, told UCA News July 15 that the government move was good news for Macau Catholics.

He noted that the historical monuments nominated preserve the heritage of the Catholic Church as well as folk religions. They were built side by side, he added, reflecting the coexistence of Eastern and Western cultures in Macau.

Ho expressed hope that the association´s pilgrimage tour program would benefit from the application to UNESCO, which he expects will help attract Catholics from mainland China to join the tours.

Jesuit Father Luis Sequeira, director of Jesuit-run Macau Ricci Institute, told UCA News the central government´s willingness to promote Macau´s cultural heritage sites shows its recognition that Macau´s history and identity includes "the spiritual experience of Christianity."

Other Macau heritage sites for inclusion in the World Heritage List include Barra Temple, the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau building, Dom Pedro V Theatre, Harbour Captaincy, Mandarin´s House, Santa Casa da Misericordia, Na Tcha Temple and a section of the old city walls.