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Chinese Catholics are experiencing spiritual revival amidst coronavirus pandemic


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John Burger - published on 04/24/20

Lockdown allows religious education for young people, which had previously been strictly forbidden.

Whether China has gotten the spread of the novel coronavirus under control is yet to be seen. But if a Chinese writer on the website of AsiaNews is to be believed, it has lost control of something else.

Just a couple of years ago, the Chinese central government under President Xi Jinping implemented new regulations about religious practices. One of those rules forbade young people under the age of 18 to receive religious instruction. Now, ironically because of the lockdown of the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic of COVID-19 originated, that rule has pretty much gone out the window.

As in the United States and many other countries, religious people in China are not able to attend services in their churches, temples or mosques. Like their counterparts in the West, they are attending virtual services through the internet. And that is allowing much religious instruction to be given, without much apparent effort on the part of the government to block it.

Throughout a Lent that Shanghai-based writer Teresa Xiao characterized as being twice the length of its normal 40 days, due to the pandemic and imposed isolation, faithful Catholics “faced many difficulties, but they also experienced spiritual growth.”

“For weeks, most of the priests had to celebrate Mass on their own. But on Sundays and holidays they tried to transmit the liturgy on Wechat [a Chinese app similar to WhatsApp] and the virtual participants were tens, hundreds and even thousands or hundreds of thousands,” Xiao wrote in AsiaNews, a publication of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME). “This happened in many dioceses: Ningbo, Zhengding, Shanghai, Ningde, Beijing, Shantou, Liaoning, … The faithful tried to ‘participate’ in the Mass broadcast live not only from China, but also from other places: Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia. Above all, they were able to attend the Mass and liturgies of the Easter Triduum celebrated by Pope Francis and broadcast by the Vatican.”

Xiao said that although the pandemic led to the blockage of villages and neighborhoods beginning January 23, priests “did not stop their pastoral activity. They all had their own Wechat group, and thanks to this, thousands of people were able to receive videos and written material: Masses, homilies, biblical readings, prayers, articles, videos.

“This time was also important for families and for the religious education of their children,” she wrote. “In the absence of the weekly liturgy, families found ways to pray more often together, also having celebrations of the liturgy of the Word in which every Sunday in turn, the Gospel was explained, people sang, read. Several times, families have organized continuous Bible readings. Apparently among the books that the Chinese like most are the Book of Wisdom and the four Gospels.”

According to Xiao, families reported children studying and being formed in the faith from the Bible and from participating in the liturgy.

“During Holy Week, the quarantine was lightened, and so priests and nuns were able to go to visit the sick, to hear confessions, [and] to pray for the deceased of the pandemic,” Xiao wrote. “With Easter, we have seen hope reappear all over the world, even if still marked by the pandemic. Now we wait for the strength of the Holy Spirit: The Church grows more vibrant after every trial.”

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