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Vocations drying up in China

HONG KONG (UCAN): Both Catholic and Protestant groups in China say they are facing a severe shortage of clergy. The drop in recruits for seminaries comes just at a time when the number of their members is on the increase.

Statistics released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of China say that the six million-plus Catholics in the country are served by 3,316 priests across 106 parishes.

However, the bishops’ conference is a quasi-government body and only list statistics from the government-recognised official Catholic community parishes. They do not include members of the unofficial communities, which account for at least as many people again, who also are served by thousands of priests.

Liu Yuanlong, the vice president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said on March 14 that the number of seminarians studying for the priesthood has dropped sharply in recent years. Fewer than 800 are in formation programmes at the nation’s 10 major seminaries.

“The shortage of new recruits is a major problem for the Catholic Church in China,” he said on the sidelines of the annual session of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress.

He described some seminaries as being smaller than a rural middle school, only attracting one or two new seminarians each year.

Liu explained that the drop in numbers can be put down to a variety of reasons and specifically pointed the finger at the unofficial Church communities, which many may find more attractive.

“The lack of attention paid to Church recruits by bishops has also made the problem more serious,” Liu said.

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