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A mixed bag for Church summer camps

HONG KONG (UCAN): Summer camps for children are a regular feature of parish life in many parts of the world and have been a popular way in China of helping children to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company, as well as introducing them more deeply to their faith.
But this year, the experience was a mixed bag, with some parishes reporting that the government had closed their camps down and others had been able to go ahead more or less behind closed doors, while several reported receiving good cooperation and assistance from local officials.
However, a formal letter from Father Wang Qingwen, from Xuzhou in the east of Jiangsu province in China, complaining that security officials had banned his parish, without any explanation, from running a children’s summer camp during the school holidays has gone viral on social media.
Father Wang lodged his complaint over the ban with the Communist Party secretary in Suqian City, Wei Guoqiang, on July 4.
Father Wang, who is a director of the Suqian City Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said he was shocked to hear from the religious affairs department on July 3 that security officers were banning the summer camp even though other dioceses were being permitted to go ahead with similar programmes.
“Churches across the country have been running camps and even the official bimonthly magazine, Catholic Church in China, reports news on these classes every year,” Father Wang wrote in his letter of complaint.
Father Wang told the party secretary that the constitution allows citizens the freedom of religious belief and international law stipulates that children are also entitled to religious freedom.
He stressed that the people charged with protecting this right are the parents of the child, not the Communist Party or the government.
Father Wang noted that more than 400 priests in his chat group across China told him that they are running summer camps. In his letter to the party secretary, he wondered “why only security officers of Suqian City have to ban us?”
The summer camps are a popular way for the Church in China to provide religious formation to the children of Catholic people and is used as a time to introduce other children to the faith.
However, Father Wang’s parish was not the only one to have its summer camps cancelled by the security department as at least one parish priest in Xuzhou said he had received a similar ban, which was also issued without any explanation.
However, across the country the experiences of various parishes were varied.
A parish priest in Chengdu in southwestern Sichuan province said he had gone ahead with the planned camp and far from closing down the gathering, the party and government departments were quite supportive.
Faith Press reported that in Yichang in central Hubei province a camp for around a dozen children aged between five and 14 was able to go ahead unhindered.
However, in southern Guangxi province, a priest who asked not to be named said they held the programme in a low-key manner in much the same way as people inviting the friends of their children to come around and play for a few days.
In Henan province, Father Paul, who did not want to reveal his full name or diocese, said that programmes were carried out in secret because the local authorities had banned them.
He explained that during a state-run learning class for clergy in February, they were reminded of “the principle that religion and education should be separated.”
Father Paul added that he had heard that one of the people helping to run the camp had invited a Muslim parent to introduce their religion to the children.
“A video clip of this was spread by some students, which attracted the attention of the government, which then reiterated that religion should not interfere with education,” Father Paul said.
“Currently we hold camps secretly in a rural parish. It is impossible to hold them in the city,” the priest said.
In eastern Zhejiang province, Teresa, who belongs to an official Church community, said the authorities intervene in their programmes if they are too upfront with them.
“If no one reports us to the authorities, we continue to run the programme and the officials pretend they do not know about it,” Teresa explained.
“The authorities fear the Church as a poison flower in the country. So, if we are low-key, they let us go. Otherwise, they will intervene,” she said.

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