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A busy shopping area in Shenzhen

Church struggles to serve growing population

January 27 2010

SHENZHEN, China (UCAN) -- Catholics living in Shenzhen, the fifth most densely populated city in the world, are looking for ways to serve the rapidly growing population here despite obstacles.

Media reports say that Shenzhen, with 17,150 people per square kilometer, is the world's most densely-populated city after Mumbai, Kolkata, Karachi and Lagos.

However, local Catholics say there are only 30,000 Catholics here, accounting for only 0.21 percent of the more than 14 million inhabitants.

Father Francis Xavier Zhang Tianlu, parish priest of St. Anthony's Church in Futian district, said the main difficulty for the Church in Shenzhen is the high mobility of priests and Catholics.

"We cannot make independent decisions like other dioceses. Some pastoral plans lack continuity due to the frequent transfer of priests," he said.

Since Shenzhen became a special economic zone in the 1980s, the city has attracted millions of migrant workers from surrounding provinces. Only 2 million of the total population are permanent residents.

Shenzhen also has a special status in the China Church. It is not a diocese but a jurisdiction directly under the government-sanctioned Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China.
Priests work for three-year terms
Most of the six priests serving the two churches, one chapel and six mission stations here are sent from Beijing diocese for three-year terms.

Despite these difficulties, the Shenzhen Church, which baptizes about 1,000 new Catholics every year, is seeking to respond to the challenge of a growing population.

St. Francis Xavier Church in Guangming New District, a high-tech industrial zone, is one of two new mission stations established since 2007. Construction of another new church will begin by 2011.

On Jan. 17, Guangming parish celebrated the formation of the "Xavier Evangelization Team," which aims to emulate Saint Francis Xavier's zeal in evangelization work.

Its 30 young members have pledged to assist in building the parish community, do charity and evangelization work, as well as be witnesses for God in their daily lives.

St. Anthony's Church has also started resource sharing among the 45 parish groups to help them introduce Catholicism to people newly arrived in the city.

The church also conducts an English Mass every Sunday for about 500 foreign Catholics.

One of them said she was amazed at the vigor of the local Church.

Other parishes are not lagging behind either and are setting up groups for charity work, Bible study as well as match-making programs to help young migrants find partners or friends of the same faith.

CH08645.1586 January 27, 2010 44 EM-lines (414 words)

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