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Social media a help in China’s winter freeze

Hong Kong (UCAN): Catholic communities in China’s northeastern provinces have been using social media to reach out in the freezing and smoggy winter while still offering direct pastoral care to the elderly to fill the digital void.

In provinces such as Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning, the average temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius for four to six months a year. 

A member of the unofficial Church community in Harbin, the capital of  Heilongjiang, who identified herself as Teresa, said, “In winter it is just too cold and now that the smog gets serious year by year, it makes us reluctant to go out.”

The Internet and mobile apps have become valuable tools in overcoming the freezing weather.

“We use WeChat and QQ friends groups to connect fellow Catholics,” said Teresa, referring to China’s equivalents to WhatsApp and Facebook.

In neighboring Jilin, a webmaster, who calls himself Paul, said that Sunday Mass numbers drop dramatically during the winter months.

“In our parish, the number of churchgoers on Sunday drops buy half from that of summer,” he said. “But attendance of course rebounds to normal on Christmas.” 

However, he has reservations about the effectiveness of WeChat because of the busy life of office workers and college students.

“Our WeChat public platform has 500 subscribers, but the rate of page views is unsatisfactory,” he said.

Paul also pointed out that “the majority of elderly Catholics don’t use the Internet or mobile apps to connect with the Church. So family visits by parish priests are still necessary.” 

A seminarian with the unofficial Church in Harbin pointed out that “some non-Catholic families did not allow their elderly parents to attend the midnight Mass as they feared for their safety due to slippery roads at night.”

On Christmas Eve, the temperature in Harbin fell to 26 degrees below zero.

“It is customary for our priests to go and visit the elderly before Christmas to hear confessions and deliver holy communion for them,” he said. 

Some college students from other provinces say the online groups helped them find the locations of churches when they came to study in Heilongjiang.

Introduced in 2011, the WeChat app is increasingly popular, with the number of users surpassing 600 million in China and 1.2 billion around the world last May. It provides a public platform for organisations and many Church groups in China, including the Harbin Apostolic Prefecture of the unofficial community and the Jilin Diocese.


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