"More Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe"

The BBC reports on the phenomeon of the swiftly growing Christian churches in China:

It is impossible to say how many Christians there are in China today, but no-one denies the numbers are exploding.

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The government says 25 million, 18 million Protestants and six million Catholics. Independent estimates all agree this is a vast underestimate. A conservative figure is 60 million. There are already more Chinese at church on a Sunday than in the whole of Europe.

The new converts can be found from peasants in the remote rural villages to the sophisticated young middle class in the booming cities.

The report touches on the structure of the Catholic Church in China, which operates in both state sanctioned churches as well as underground house churches:

Protestants and Catholics are both divided into official and unofficial Churches.

The officially sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association appoints its own bishops and is not allowed to have any dealings with the Vatican, though Catholics are allowed to recognise the spiritual authority of the Pope.

There is a larger Catholic underground church, supported by the Vatican. Inch by inch, the Vatican and the government have been moving towards accommodation. Most bishops are now recognised by both, with neither side admitting the greater sovereignty of the other.

Yet in the past few months, the Chinese government has again turned tough, ordaining its bishops in the teeth of opposition from the Vatican which has in turn excommunicated one of them.

Even so, it would be wrong simply to dismiss the official church as a sham.

In the mountains West of Beijing, I visited the village of Hou Sangyu where a Catholic Church has stood since the 14th Century.

The tough faith of these old people had withstood the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution. The village clinic was run by nuns, one from Inner Mongolia, a Catholic stronghold.

It is from such villages that the Catholic Church recruits its young ordinands, to undertake training for the priesthood.

Read the full BBC article here, and check out some articles from the America archive about the subject here, here, and here

Michael J. O'Loughlin

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