CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 November 2017

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Bans on children attending Church

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Communist Party is continuing to tighten its grip on the practice of religion with at least four regional governments across China issuing notices in late August restricting children from joining Christian groups or attending religious activities.
 
The bans include turning children away from Churches even if they come with their parents or teachers. Additionally, they include a promise that officials will actively investigate both government approved Churches and the unofficial congregations that operate outside the tightly controlled official Catholic and Protestant Churches.
 
The latest move comes as part of a concerted crackdown on religion that began with a three-year campaign to remove crosses from Church structures in the Christian stronghold province of Zhejiang.
 
The state move against religions became official last year when the president, Xi Jinping, instituted formal plans to Sinicise (code for accepting government guidelines) religion with the intention of bringing more religious followers under the control of the party, which itself is officially atheist and forbids its members to embrace a religious belief.
 
“An emergency notice from the higher authorities strictly forbids all secondary and primary school teachers, students and toddlers from joining Catholic or Protestant Churches,” the school district of Yonglin in Wenzhou, eastern Zhejiang, says in a note to all primary schools, adult educational institutes and kindergartens.
 
Maria, who lives in the Zhejiang district, said that in early August her daughter’s teacher sent an audio and written message to a parents’ chat group “asking us not to bring children to the Church.”
 
The teacher indicated that the Education Bureau had issued the instruction while adding that an inspection team would launch both open and undercover investigations on Sundays to ascertain how many children actually go to Church.
 
On August 12, the local street committee office sent the same message to Churches telling them to persuade parents not to bring their children. But Maria said that many children still participated in the procession for the feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15, one of the four most important celebrations in the Church in China.
 
She added that during the summer vacation a Church-run summer camp that two Protestant classmates of her niece attended was eventually disbanded and everyone was sent home.
 
“The move by the authorities is unnecessary. Even if the children are not allowed to go to Church, we parents can pass on our religious beliefs to our children at home,” she said, while at the same time admitting that recent events leave her greatly concerned.
 
As a priest from the unofficial community told the Sunday Examiner, “The government has the restrictions, but we have the solutions.” Nevertheless, he admitted that the tighter the restrictions the more complex the solutions become.
 
Ouhai district in Wenzhou also issued a similar notice banning children from attending Church. “If minors receive religious education and formation too early it will seriously affect the normal implementation of the education system,” the notice says.
 
A parallel situation was reported in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China. Maria was told by a friend that religious officials banned a summer camp run by the Catholic Church in Wuhai, Bameng diocese.
 
“A woman official asked people about the summer camp without revealing her identity, but she said she would like her son to join. The Catholics did not know it was a trap and told her all the details,” Maria explained.
 
“Religious officials then questioned the priest. The priest initially denied it, but after officials revealed what they knew, he was forced to disband the camp,” she said.
 
Chinese media reports from Changsha, the capital of central Hunan province, say that an emergency video conference was held in June to discuss how to stabilise the education system.
 
Liang Guochao, the director of the Education Bureau, stressed the importance of making a “decisive effort to prevent religions infiltrating into schools and guiding students towards consciously resisting religious cults so as to make the campus a piece of pure land.”
 
In neighbouring Henan province, a document titled Separating Education from Religion was issued in July reiterating the decades-old Communist policy of not allowing any religions to run study classes, Sunday schools, or summer camps for minors, and put a stop to such activities immediately.
 
The document speaks of the trend towards the secularisation of universal education and notes that even those higher institutes run by religious groups have turned secular and independent from religion.
 
In an article posted on Tianzhujiao Zaixin, a popular Catholic website in China, a writer calling himself Father Lu says that religious officials told him that the document was issued by the provincial United Work Front Department, an opaque organ of the Communist Party that liaises with religious groups as part of its regular operation.
 
Father Lu said he was asked to attend a government-run in-service on the document so that no one would interpret it from their own point of view, but follow its instructions exactly.
 
The priest also received three calls in one day from officials from three different departments, warning him to stop offering free English and music classes to children.
 
Church sources say that it is unclear yet if the ban is to be a strictly enforced policy across China, as in some areas summer camps went ahead without interference and even with the support of local councils.
 
However, they agreed that it is hard to see a bright side of the situation

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