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Caritas embraces Catholic social work in China

MANILA (SE): Delegates from Catholic non-government organisations (NGO) in mainland China to the Third Caritas China Social Pastoral Conference held in Manila, The Philippines, from February 1 to 3, say that after a long struggle they now seem to have more freedom.

The first such meeting was held in Taiwan in 2013 and the second in Macau, but while processing papers in order to be allowed to attend those meetings was quite difficult, this time there were no problems.

The Chinese delegation to the three-day gathering was led by Jinde Charities, from Shijiazhuang, which publishes Faith Press, the largest circulated Catholic news print media in the country.

Delegates from four other mainland dioceses were also among the 30 who attended the meeting organised by Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Asia.

The main agenda for the gathering was to improve cooperation among Chinese Catholic NGOs and similar organisations around the world.

The president of Caritas Asia, Bishop Isao Kikuchi, from Niigata in Japan, said that although strictly speaking a national organisation of Caritas derives its authenticity from a bishops’ conference, in China, where the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China is not recognised by the Holy See, it is impossible to fulfill this condition.

He also pointed out that neither Hong Kong nor Macau belong to a bishops’ conference, but this does not mean that Catholic charitable work carried out in the two special administrative regions should not be recognised across Asia and supported.

“There are a number of diocesan charitable organisations existing in China, which operate according to Catholic social teaching and share the same faith,” Bishop Kikuchi said.

“That is why we have been organising such a forum as this for some time, in order to invite them to share the current trend in Caritas activities and also share information for further cooperation and support,” he explained.

“Our action is based on the same faith and the charitable activities of the Catholic Church in China should not be isolated from the rest of the world,” the Japanese bishop said.

Manila is the first non-Chinese-speaking city to host the Caritas China Conference, but it is also the home archdiocese of the worldwide president of Caritas, Luis Cardinal Tagle.

Discussions at the Manila meeting zeroed in on the spread of HIV/AIDS in China, as official figures tend to present a contradictory picture.

The authorities in China have not come up with a suitable plan to prevent its spread and the public has been kept in the dark about its dangers.

Figures released by the United Nations show about 350,000 HIV positive cases in the country, but research carried out by the Catholic Church suggests that number is closer to one million.

“Many Chinese colleagues expressed great concern over this problem during the Manila conference,” Bishop Kikuchi pointed out.

He said that researchers believe that the massive internal migration is a big factor, as many workers are infected in the city and then return to their homes in the countryside.

The delegation from China asked for greater contact with the Catholic Asia Pacific Coalition on HIV and AIDS, of which several Caritas organisations are members.

The delegation also isolated response to natural disasters, saying that China is part of our common home that Pope Francis speaks of in his encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).

Bishop Kikuchi noted that China is a vast country with a huge population, while the Church is relatively small with limited resources, and Caritas Internationalis, as a non-political organisation, believes that it can offer a lot, simply through working with Chinese groups and supporting them.

However, while the Chinese government remains ambivalent towards NGOs, the delegation pointed out that it is clear that it needs help, especially in the areas of care for the aged, the orphaned and the sick.

A draft proposal on new regulations governing the operations of NGOs could even make it more difficult for international cooperation in the social service field, especially in the area of receiving financial support from abroad.

In addition, faith-based NGOs need recognition from both the local and the central office of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.


Although a way forward may be difficult to finalise at this point, Bishop Kikuchi said that Caritas will continue to organise gatherings of the Caritas China Social Pastoral Conference to exchange ideas and information, and to search for common ground for charitable action as organisations of the same Catholic Church.

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