BEIJING (AsiaNews): On Easter night, March 26, more than 100 adults were baptised in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing.
In presenting themselves to Bishop Joseph Li Shan, they wrapped their shoulders in white robes and, accompanied by their godparents, professed their adherence to faith in Jesus Christ.
The same ritual was repeated in churches across China during Easter. In recent years, more than 20,000 people have been baptised into the Catholic Church in China at this time of the year.
Some 27 baptisms took place in a parish just outside Shanghai, in an area home to almost a million people. The local congregation was just over 100-strong; so the community will grow by more than 25 per cent with the inclusion of the new faces.
Christmas, Pentecost and the Assumption provide other occasions for baptism. About 100,000 adult baptisms are expected to occur over the year. The number of baptisms in unregistered Protestant Churches is even higher.
One common characteristic of the huge congregations that gathered for Easter Masses is that the under-40s age group predominated.
For the government, in particular the Religious Affairs Ministry, the rising number of Christians in the country is a source of concern.
Some estimates put their number at around 100 million, more than the Chinese Communist Party, which is estimated to be around 85 million.
Some observers say that the Communist Party itself is to blame for the growth of Christianity in the country, as theoretical and practical materialism drive people to seek wealth and to consume, leaving many feel bereft of meaning in their lives.
Many of the newly baptised say that economic well-being was not enough for them and they are seeking something deeper. A bishop in central China described this as a great thirst for God.
Materialism has led to widespread individualism and exploitation. Many people—especially internal migrant workers who move to the cities to work—feel alone with no one to help them. Paid low wages, their lives are tough.
“After I met some Catholics, I felt accepted and welcomed as a person with dignity, not valued for my wealth or poverty,” one of the newly baptised commented.
By and large, this year’s Easter celebrations took place without tension. Police told people to carry out their services without singing and in small groups, but even unregistered communities were able to hold Mass and liturgical services without much of a fuss.
The Church in Xi’an continued its culinary tradition, offering lunch to hundreds of homeless people. Small gifts, Easter eggs, apples, candles and rosary beads, were also prepared for the guests.
Volunteers handed out coloured cards to the guests who responded by writing their best wishes.
One wrote, “The Catholic Church is my home and my light. I wish all Christians a long and healthy life.” On a regular basis, the Sunday Love Kitchen provides a meal to the homeless each week, with special dishes and gifts during the holidays.