Archive for the ‘communism’ Category

Where Irreligious Trends Lead After Decades

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JAN. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- To see how disturbing a secularist and increasingly irreligious society can become, one need only look to Sweden.

Abortion has been free on demand and available without parental consent in the country since 1975, resulting in the Nordic nation having the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe (22.5 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 in 2009).

Swedish law does not in any way recognize the right to conscientious objection for health care workers (last year, the Swedish parliament overwhelmingly passed an order instructing Swedish politicians to fight against the rights of doctors to refuse to participate in abortion).

Meanwhile, sex education is graphic and compulsory, beginning at the age of six, and children from kindergarten age are taught cross-dressing and that whatever feels good sexually is OK. The age of consent is 15.

“We have so many violations of human dignity on so many levels, and so many problems when it comes to social engineering,” explained Johan Lundell, secretary-general of the Swedish pro-life group Ja till Livet. “This has been going on for the past 70 years.”

Lundell was a guest of ours recently at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (Institute for Human Dignity) where he laid out a catalogue of offenses against human dignity in Swedish society. “We have the highest teenage abortion rate in Europe. Why? Because we say abortion is a human right, it doesn’t kill anything, just takes away a pregnancy,” he said. “And after 20 years of this, young people don’t care any more. Why should they? For 10 to 15 years no one has even said abortion should be legal but rare.”

Its sex education program, seen by some social liberals as groundbreaking but others as far too explicit, has been given by some as the principal reason for a low teenage pregnancy rate. But the high number of abortions among that age group are rarely discussed, nor are the figures disclosed. “No one talks about child abortions,” said Lundell. “They’re ashamed of them. Yet we’re the only country in Europe where there’s abortion on demand, there are no formal procedures, no parental consent, no informed consent.”

Nor are the number of rapes in Sweden widely known or advertised. Yet according to Lundell, over the past 50 years — during this era of loose sexual mores — they have risen by “1,000 percent.”

Lundell further noted that all other countries want to reduce the number of abortions, yet despite having 550 different government departments in Sweden, none has a mission to lower the number of terminations. “Children can see this is wrong, parents can see it’s wrong, and as a society we don’t want it and yet no one talks about it,” Lundell added. “It’s absurd.”

He said that Sweden should “definitely” be taken as a warning to other countries pursuing secularist, socially liberal policies “because then you can see what the agenda is for people, and how the European Union and the United Nations are copying these Scandinavian ideas.”

Returning to the subject of sex education, Lundell said Swedes generally don’t bother any more trying to argue that homosexuality is genetic– a common argument used to promote the same-sex agenda — because the movement is now so fully accepted that it no longer needs this argument as a support. “In sex education books, they don’t talk about someone being heterosexual or homosexual — there are no such things because for them everyone is homosexual,” he said.

Lundell referred to a brochure for children published by same-sex associations, and printed with the help of financing by the state. “They write positively about all kinds of sexuality, every kind, even the most depraved sexual acts, and it goes into all schools,” he explained. “The information is put on Web sites, and school children are told about the Web sites so they can see it.” Teachers, he said, are encouraged to ask students “What turns you on?” yet Lundell pointed out that if the chief executive of a company asked that at a business meeting, he’d be fired. “It would be sexual harassment,” he said. “And yet you train people to do this to children?”

Some parents have made formal complaints, branding it as carnal knowledge, too candid for the classroom and labeling the lessons as “vulgar” and “too advanced.” But the majority acquiesce to the curriculum, while the option to homeschool children is almost forbidden.

Yet to many outsiders, Sweden’s popular image is of a fair, ordered, just and harmonious society — the model example of a functioning welfare state. In many cases this is true if one looks at infant mortality rates, life expectancy, standard of health care and access to education. The level of poverty is also relatively low.

“It’s long been said that if it is not possible to bring about a socialist world in Sweden, then it’s not possible anywhere,” said Lundell. “That’s why some have tried to make it into a socialist paradise. But unlike in, say, Italy or Greece, in Sweden it’s not about the socialism of finances but rather the socialism of families — social engineering, which has been much more visible here than in southern Europe.”

Per Bylund, a Swedish fellow at the Von Mises Institute, once described the all encompassing power of the state thus: “A significant difference between my generation and the preceding one is that most of us were not raised by our parents at all. We were raised by the authorities in state daycare centers from the time of infancy; then pushed on to public schools, public high schools, and public universities; and later to employment in the public sector and more education via the powerful labor unions and their educational associations. The state is ever-present and is to many the only means of survival — and its welfare benefits the only possible way to gain independence.”

Yet this social engineering has had dire consequences. Few European countries have witnessed such a rapid decline in the institution of marriage, nor such an expeditious rise in abortion. During the 1950s and first half of the 1960s, the marriage rate in Sweden was historically at its peak. Suddenly, the rate started dropping so quickly that it saw a decrease of about 50% in less than 10 years. No other country experienced such a rapid change.

Between 2000 and 2010, when the rest of Europe was showing signs of a reduction in annual abortion rates, the Swedish government says the rate increased from 30,980 to 37,693. The proportion of repeat abortions rose from 38.1% to 40.4% — the highest level ever — while the number of women having at least four previous abortions increased from 521 to approximately 750.

With the exception of a few stalwart campaigners such as Lundell, most Swedish Christians — and particularly Christian politicians — remain silent in the face of the countless social violations against human dignity. Little resistance is also given to attacks on religious freedom for Christians, with priority increasingly being given to Sharia law.

Judging by the figures, it could almost be said the faith has packed up altogether. At the end of 2009, 71.3% of Swedes belonged to the Lutheran Church of Sweden — a number that has been decreasing by about one percentage point a year for the last two decades. Of them, only around 2% regularly attend Sunday services. Indeed, some studies have found Swedes to be one of the least religious people in the world and a country with one of the highest numbers of atheists. According to different studies carried out in the early 2000s, between 46% and 85% of Swedes do not believe in God.

Lundell said that although small, the Catholic Church has a good bishop and is helped by immigrants from Poland and Latin America. But Catholics are generally seen as outsiders with little influence and they are wary of overtly campaigning or being seen as “too tough,” he said. Even Pentecostals are reticent to raise objections. “They are probably the only Pentecostal church in the world that doesn’t,” he added.

But despite all this, Lundell, whose organization is attracting a growing number of young people, remains hopeful — and he remains ultimately loyal to his home country. “I’m so proud of Sweden I can’t imagine moving away,” he said. “But I am ashamed of the politics when it comes to the family, sexual politics and restrictions on freedom of religion.”

“Whole parts of society aren’t Sweden any more,” he added. “So we will fight, and we will do so with more eagerness than ever.”

Edward Pentin is a freelance journalist and Communications Director at the Dignitatis Humanae Institute. He can be reached at epentin@zenit.org.

“Sure Guidance for Pastoral Activity in Years to Come”

JULY 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the explanatory note released Saturday by the Vatican with the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter to the Catholics in China.

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EXPLANATORY NOTE

“Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China”

By his “Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China”, which bears the date of Pentecost Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI wishes to express his love for and his closeness to the Catholics who live in China. He does so, obviously, as Successor of Peter and Universal Pastor of the Church.

From the text two basic thoughts are clear: on the one hand, the Pope’s deep affection for the entire Catholic community in China and, on the other, his passionate fidelity to the great values of the Catholic tradition in the ecclesiological field; hence, a passion for charity and a passion for the truth. The Pope recalls the great ecclesiological principles of the Second Vatican Council and the Catholic tradition, but at the same time takes into consideration particular aspects of the life of the Church in China, setting them in an ample theological perspective.

A – The Church in China in the last fifty years

The Catholic community in China has lived the past fifty years in an intense way, undertaking a difficult and painful journey, which not only has deeply marked it but has also caused it to take on particular characteristics which continue to mark it today.

The Catholic community suffered an initial persecution in the 1950s, which witnessed the expulsion of foreign Bishops and missionaries, the imprisonment of almost all Chinese clerics and the leaders of the various lay movements, the closing of churches and the isolation of the faithful. Then, at the end of the 1950s, various state bodies were established, such as the Office for Religious Affairs and the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, with the aim of directing and “controlling” all religious activity. In 1958 the first two episcopal ordinations without papal mandate took place, initiating a long series of actions which deeply damaged ecclesial communion.

In the decade 1966-1976, the Cultural Revolution, which took place throughout the country, violently affected the Catholic community, striking even those Bishops, priests and lay faithful who had shown themselves more amenable to the new orientations imposed by government authorities.

In the 1980s, with the gestures of openness promoted by Deng Xiaoping, there began a period of religious tolerance with some possibility of movement and dialogue, which led to the reopening of churches, seminaries and religious houses, and to a certain revival of community life. The information coming from communities of the Catholic Church in China confirmed that the blood of the martyrs had once again been the seed of new Christians: the faith had remained alive in the communities; the majority of Catholics had given fervent witness of fidelity to Christ and the Church; families had become the key to the transmission of the faith to their members. The new climate, however, provoked different reactions within the Catholic community.

In this regard, the Pope notes that some Pastors, “not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration” to ensure a pastoral service to their own communities (No. 8). In fact, as the Holy Father makes clear, “the clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church’s life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church’s life” (ibid.).

Others, who were especially concerned with the good of the faithful and with an eye to the future “have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate” (ibid.). The Pope, in consideration of the complexity of the situation and being deeply desirous of promoting the re-establishment of full communion, granted many of them “full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction”.

Attentively analyzing the situation of the Church in China, Benedict XVI is aware of the fact that the community is suffering internally from a situation of conflict in which both faithful and Pastors are involved. He emphasizes, however, that this painful situation was not brought about by different doctrinal positions but is the result of the “the significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community” (No. 7). These are entities, whose declared purposes — in particular, the aim of implementing the principles of independence, self-government and self-management of the Church — are not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. This interference has given rise to seriously troubling situations. What is more, Bishops and priests have been subjected to considerable surveillance and coercion in the exercise of their pastoral office.

In the 1990s, from many quarters and with increasing frequency, Bishops and priests turned to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Secretariat of State in order to obtain from the Holy See precise instructions as to how they should conduct themselves with regard to some problems of ecclesial life in China. Many asked what attitude should be adopted toward the government and toward state agencies in charge of Church life. Other queries concerned strictly sacramental problems, such as the possibility of concelebrating with Bishops who had been ordained without papal mandate or of receiving the sacraments from priests ordained by these Bishops. Finally, the legitimizing of numerous Bishops who had been illicitly consecrated confused some sectors of the Catholic community.

In addition, the law on registering places of worship and the state requirement of a certificate of membership in the Patriotic Association gave rise to fresh tensions and further questions.

During these years, Pope John Paul II on several occasions addressed messages and appeals to the Church in China, calling all Catholics to unity and reconciliation. The interventions of the Holy Father were well received, creating a desire for unity, but sadly the tensions with the authorities and within the Catholic community did not diminish.

For its part, the Holy See has provided directives regarding the various problems, but the passage of time and the rise of new situations of increasing complexity required a reconsideration of the overall question in order to provide the clearest answer possible to the queries and to issue sure guidance for pastoral activity in years to come.

B – The history of the Papal Letter

The various problems which seem to have most seriously affected the life of the Church in China in recent years were amply and carefully analyzed by a special select Commission made up of some experts on China and members of the Roman Curia who follow the situation of that community. When Pope Benedict XVI decided to call a meeting from 19-20 January 2007 during which various ecclesiastics, including some from China, took part, the aforementioned Commission worked to produce a document aimed at ensuring broad discussion on the various points, gathering practical recommendations made by the participants and proposing some possible theological and pastoral guidelines for the Catholic community in China. His Holiness, who graciously took part in the final session of the meeting, decided, among other things, to address a Letter to the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful.

C – Content of the Letter

“Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex matters well known to you”, writes Benedict XVI to the Catholics of China, “I wish through this letter to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord and Master Jesus Christ wants from you” (No. 2). The Pope reiterates some fundamental principles of Catholic ecclesiology in order to clarify the more important problems, aware that the light shed by these principles will provide assistance in dealing with the various questions and the more concrete aspects of the life of the Catholic community.

While expressing great joy for the fidelity demonstrated by the faithful in China over the past fifty years, Benedict XVI reaffirms the inestimable value of their sufferings and of the persecution endured for the Gospel, and he directs to all an earnest appeal for unity and reconciliation. Since he is aware of the fact that full reconciliation “cannot be accomplished overnight”, he recalls that this path “of reconciliation is supported by the example and the prayer of so many ‘witnesses of faith’ who have suffered and have forgiven, offering their lives for the future of the Catholic Church in China” (No. 6).

In this context, the words of Jesus, “Duc in altum” (Luke 5:4), continue to ring true. This is an expression which invites “us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence”. In China, as indeed in the rest of the world, “the Church is called to be a witness of Christ, to look forward with hope, and — in proclaiming the Gospel — to measure up to the new challenges that the Chinese people must face” (No. 3). “In your country too” the Pope states, “the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen will be possible to the extent that, with fidelity to the Gospel, in communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and with the universal Church, you are able to put into practice the signs of love and unity” (ibid.).

In dealing with some of the more urgent problems which emerge from the queries which have reached the Holy See from Bishops and priests, Benedict XVI offers guidance regarding the recognition of ecclesiastics of the clandestine community by the government authorities (cf. No. 7) and he gives much prominence to the subject of the Chinese Episcopate (cf. No. 8), with particular reference to matters surrounding the appointment of Bishops (cf. No. 9). Of special significance are the pastoral directives which the Holy Father gives to the community, which emphasize in the first place the figure and mission of the Bishop in the diocesan community: “nothing without the Bishop”. In addition, he provides guidance for Eucharistic concelebration and he encourages the creation of diocesan bodies laid down by canonical norms. He does not fail to give directions for the training of priests and family life.

As for the relationship of the Catholic community to the State, Benedict XVI in a serene and respectful way recalls Catholic doctrine, formulated anew by the Second Vatican Council. He then expresses the sincere hope that the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese government will make progress so as to be able to reach agreement on the appointment of Bishops, obtain the full exercise of the faith by Catholics as a result of respect for genuine religious freedom and arrive at the normalization of relations between the Holy See and the Beijing Government.

Finally, the Pope revokes all the earlier and more recent faculties and directives of a pastoral nature which had been granted by the Holy See to the Church in China. The changed circumstances of the overall situation of the Church in China and the greater possibilities of communication now enable Catholics to follow the general canonical norms and, where necessary, to have recourse to the Apostolic See. In any event, the doctrinal principles which inspired the above-mentioned faculties and directives now find fresh application in the directives contained in the present Letter (cf. No. 18).

D – Tone and outlook of the Letter

With spiritual concern and using an eminently pastoral language, Benedict XVI addresses the entire Church in China. His intention is not to create situations of harsh confrontation with particular persons or groups: even though he expresses judgments on certain critical situations, he does so with great understanding for the contingent aspects and the persons involved, while upholding the theological principles with great clarity. The Pope wishes to invite the Church to a deeper fidelity to Jesus Christ and he reminds all Chinese Catholics of their mission to be evangelizers in the present specific context of their country. The Holy Father views with respect and deep sympathy the ancient and recent history of the great Chinese people and once again declares himself ready to engage in dialogue with the Chinese authorities in the awareness that normalization of the life of the Church in China presupposes frank, open and constructive dialogue with these authorities. Furthermore, Benedict XVI, like his Predecessor John Paul II before him, is firmly convinced that this normalization will make an incomparable contribution to peace in the world, thus adding an irreplaceable piece to the great mosaic of peaceful coexistence among peoples.

Interview With Religious Freedom Expert

ROME, JULY 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The reception of Benedict XVI’s letter to Chinese Catholics will say as much about the status of the Church there as the letter itself, says an expert on China-Vatican relations.

In this interview with ZENIT, Raphaela Schmid spoke of the Pope’s letter, what it means for the Church in China and for the Chinese government.

Schmid, director of the Becket Institute for Religious Liberty, recently wrote and directed the TV documentary “God in China. The Struggle for Religious Freedom.”

Q: What prompted Benedict XVI to write the letter to China in the first place?

Schmid: The prime mover behind the letter was Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun: Since his elevation by Benedict XVI to the rank of cardinal, he has been a tireless advocate for Chinese Catholics before the Roman Curia.

When Beijing illegally ordained bishops in 2006, after a period of diplomatic rapprochement, the Vatican was caught off guard and Cardinal Zen felt that there had to be a reconsideration and clear restatement of China policy in order not to be wrong-footed again.

So this is why a meeting was held in January 2007 in Rome to discuss matters and out of this discussion the Pope’s letter came.

Q: What is the most important element of the letter?

Schmid: The most significant thing about this letter is that it exists at all — that there is a letter to Chinese Catholics from the Pope. And it will serve as a test case for the much-trumpeted new openness toward Rome of the official Church.

It is all very well for reconciled bishops — 90% of the illegitimately ordained bishops in China have subsequently reconciled with Rome — to encourage the faithful to pray for the Pope at Sunday Mass. But when the Holy Father writes an actual letter to them, what will they do?

Distribute it to the faithful and take it as a fundamental reference point for the future — or ignore it and carry on as if it had never been written?

To be sure, the reception of this letter will say as much as the text itself about the current situation of the Church in China.

Q: Is there any indication of how the letter been received so far?

Schmid: Already, before the letter had appeared, government officials had summoned Catholic open Church bishops to a meeting in order to coordinate the response — which appears to be: do nothing.

News reports today indicate that the letter was not mentioned at open Church Sunday Masses and the vice chairman of the Patriotic Association has indicated that there are no plans to distribute the letter.

He did, however, state that people were free to download it from the Internet if they wanted. And this seems to be happening: I’ve been in contact with underground Catholics who have already read it.

There is a strong grassroots movement in the open Church community in favor of communion with Rome, even to the extent that the open Church auxiliary bishop of Shanghai could admit: “Without mandate from Rome, the people will not accept a bishop.”

I imagine that independent of the directives of the Church hierarchy, they are going online too.

It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the Chinese government will try to restrict access: There have been some reports that Catholic Web sites based in China had originally been allowed to upload the letter but were subsequently forced to take it down.

Q: Does the Pope’s letter represent a dramatic change in Vatican policy? What exactly has the letter changed?

Schmid: There has been some confusion on this matter in the initial press reactions.

The letter revokes the special faculties granted in 1981 through a letter of Cardinal Agnelo Rossi, the then prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

At that time the Holy See found it impossible to directly provide legitimate bishops loyal to the Holy See and therefore granted the loyal bishops within China the “very special faculties” to ordain bishops without previously informing the Holy See, because of the danger incurred in communicating with Rome.

Clearly in an age of e-mail and cell phones, communication with Rome no longer presents an insurmountable problem, and so these special faculties are no longer necessary.

The revocation of these faculties is not the same as the revocation of the Tomko points of 1988, which have been superseded by this letter. As the letter explicitly says, the fundamental principles remain the same: Illegitimate ordination still incurs excommunication “latae sententiae” according to canon 1382.

Bishops appointed by, or reconciled with, Rome are still fully valid and legitimate.

Bishops appointed without papal mandate and not reconciled with Rome are still illegitimate: They administer the sacraments validly, but not legitimately.

As has always been the case, Catholics may receive sacraments from them where they have no other option, just as they can from valid yet illegitimate Greek Orthodox clergy.

Q: Does the letter criticize or condemn anyone?

Schmid: In the letter, Benedict XVI shows extraordinary sympathy and understanding for difficult situations of individual priests or bishops — and that the lack of religious freedom in China is a mitigating factor in the decision-making process. So there are no blanket condemnations or criticism.

But, at the same time, the Pope is tough on the specific institutions such as the bishops’ conference of the open Church which “cannot be recognized by the Holy See” because of its exclusion of underground bishops and inclusion of bishops not recognized by the Holy See, as well as the Catholic Patriotic Association whose statutes are “incompatible with Church doctrine.”

Q: What is the Catholic Patriotic Association?

Schmid: The Patriotic Association is not the same as the open or official Church, although there is a good deal of overlap between the two; the Pope refers to it as an “external entity” which sometimes “interferes” in the running of the official Church.

The Patriotic Association is a collective that was set up by the government in 1957, with the stated purpose of implementing “the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management, and democratic administration of the Church.”

These are the principles that the Pope’s letter unequivocally calls “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”

Q: Are Catholics in China required to join the Catholic Patriotic Association?

Schmid: In the past, priests and bishops were required to join this organization if they wished to practice their faith in the open and with government approval.

This is no longer the case everywhere: Bishop Lucas Li of Fenxiang, for example, has received government approval without being a member of the Patriotic Association.

But still enormous pressure is sometimes brought to bear on bishops and clerics to join the Patriotic Association: In 2001, Bishop Li and his secretary were arrested by the police and disappeared for about a month, while 12 priests of his diocese were detained and forced to attend re-education courses in order to force them to join the Patriotic Association.

The campaign was unsuccessful, but the episode shows the enduring power of the Patriotic Association.

One of the reasons for this power is money: The Religious Affairs Bureau and the Patriotic Association are in charge of confiscated Church properties and investments across the country.

According to Anthony Lam of the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, the total value of confiscated properties and goods amounts to at least 130 billion Yuan, that is about $17 billion. Only a fraction of the income of these properties is redirected to the government-approved official Church.

Q: The document does not speak of a “patriotic” or “official Church,” nor does it mention an “underground Church” — what is the significance of this?

Schmid: It is perfectly true that the document does this, and it is not a new departure. Rome has always avoided speaking of schism — of the “official” or “patriotic” Church in China having split off from the Roman Catholic Church.

The facts on the ground, however, had made it necessary to distinguish between two groups of Catholics — those whose collaboration with the government gained them the privilege of open exercise of their religion — though at the cost of accepting illegitimate bishops — and those whose refusal to compromise resulted in them being driven underground.

Ultimately, however, the future of this distinction depends on the Chinese government and the advancement of religious freedom in China.

Beijing Faces a Faith Explosion

ROME, JUNE 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A new documentary, “God in China. The Struggle for Religious Freedom,” explores the best-kept secret of China: religion. According to the documentary, China is going through a massive resurgence of religious belief that the authorities of the atheistic regime are neither able to control nor contain.

Written and directed by Raphaela Schmid, director of the Becket Institute, and produced by Yago de la Cierva of Rome Reports TV News Agency, the documentary was previewed by students, professors and journalists in Rome.

With its new office in Rome, the Becket Institute is exploring ways to go beyond the conventionally academic means to educate a wider public about religious freedom.

“One such way is making topical television documentaries about religious freedom, based on the situation in various countries,” Schmid said.

While not a film exclusively about Catholic issues, the China documentary offers unprecedented insight into both sides of the divide between the “official,” or the government-controlled Patriotic Association of Catholic Churches, and the “underground” Church that remains loyal to Rome.

The film takes viewers across China where they meet believers of different faiths struggling for religious freedom, walking a thin line between toleration and persecution. In some places they discover new freedom, in others they suffer state control and even persecution.

From a rural underground parish to a clandestine seminary, from a state-sponsored Buddhist Academy to a mosque at the heart of Beijing’s Muslim community, Chinese people from all walks of life candidly tell their stories and offer their assessment of what the future may hold for them.

The film coincides with the first official admission that at least 30% of all Chinese declare themselves to be members of a religion. More surprisingly, 20 million of the 60 million members of the Communist Party confess belonging to a religion.

It also makes clear the limitations various religious communities, whether state-controlled or independent, continue to face. “During the Cultural Revolution, faith communities were driven underground,” Schmid explains. “In 1978, Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization program began to open doors for the return of religion to Chinese public life.”

Schmid said that some properties were restored and religious rights reaffirmed in the recently revised constitution. But even this limited sort of freedom came at a price: obeying the directives of the state-run Bureau for Religious Affairs.

In the case of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Patriotic Association was founded in an attempt to bring Catholic Church teaching in line with Communist party ideals.

“Those who refused to compromise had to remain underground,” Schmid said. Throughout the documentary, viewers are made aware of the dangers that still exist. Christians who do not surrender their faith to government directives are in danger of being arrested. Mass is celebrated secretly, and makeshift churches can be torn down by local authorities from one day to the next.

Schmid said that while the underground Church is less vigorously persecuted today, there are still many bishops and priests in prison. In addition to more obvious issues of freedom, the documentary explores more subtle problems, such as making the teachings of the Church accessible to the faithful.

“It’s important to understand that joining the Patriotic Association is not a mere formality for Chinese Catholics,” Schmid explained.

“The problem is that, under state control, the Church cannot speak up on important issues such as abortion, the one child policy, human rights, and the death penalty — and for this they must have leaders who do not acquiesce to a mutilated version of the faith, accommodated to the demands of the state.”

Reflecting on her experience in China, Schmid said, “What struck me most during the filming of this documentary in China was the generosity and kindness of the people we met, particularly those who did so at great personal risk.”

The film on China is the team’s second venture. The first project was about religious freedom in Turkey and was filmed shortly before Benedict XVI’s visit there last November.

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Learning Peace in Bethlehem

Within the Israeli-built wall that segregates Bethlehem from its neighboring communities, Bethlehem University of the Holy Land is a haven for some 2,500 students.

The university, supported by the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches and staffed by the De LeSalle Christian Brothers, is the only Catholic Christian institution of higher learning in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Brother Daniel Casey, vice chancellor and chief executive officer of Bethlehem University, was among the 100 or so members of the Vatican agency that coordinates funding to Eastern Catholic Churches that met in Rome last week for their annual meeting. The agency, known by its Italian acronym ROACO, is under the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

Founded in 1973, the university opened almost a decade after Pope Paul VI’s historic visit to the region when Palestinians expressed their desire for a Catholic University in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Throughout its 30-year history, the Christian brothers, educational leaders, and the local Church have all supported the university and the ever-increasing numbers of students who receive practical training and an education in an atmosphere of true Christian dialogue.

Despite the recent infighting between Fatah and Hamas, and increased tensions in the Holy Land, Brother Casey said the culture and ethos of Bethlehem remains Christian.

“Bethlehem is in a unique position, in that it is the town that Jesus was born in, and the Christian population here, along with the two neighboring towns of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, is nearly a majority,” Brother Casey said.

“It is very different here than in Gaza where the number of Christians is infinitesimal,” he added.

Christian-Muslim dialogue is a high priority in the region, said the vice chancellor. The university and other area agencies educate both Christian and Muslim students to know and understand each other, know their religions, and to work together. “I believe we are successful at this,” Brother Casey said.

There are very encouraging signs, he added. People in the area respect the university’s Christian ideals and long-standing traditions. “We still adhere to a Sunday Christian day of worship. We are one of the few places that is closed on Sunday and open on Friday, the Muslim day of worship,” Bother Casey said.

Moreover, Christian and Muslim students actively participate in their faiths and attend worship services. The university Mass is well attended. The Orthodox Christians also hold regular services, and a room for prayer is provided for the university’s Muslim population.

Benedict XVI has expressed deep concern for the Christians and others in the entire Middle East. In addresses both to ROACO as well as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pope urged both respect and charity as principles for dialogue.

Against a backdrop of tension that pervades the whole region, Brother Casey said that the university does its best to maintain normalizing influence.

“There is a definite fear no matter where you live. In casual conversation I often hear people express gratitude for another day but unease at what the night will bring,” Brother Casey remarked. While fear is inevitable, the university continues to hold international conferences, regular academic sessions, and to turn away applicants that exceed its capacity.

The past year presented special challenges. The crippling embargo, recently lifted, prevented the Palestinian Authority from providing much-needed aid to all of the region’s institutions, including universities.

But, Brother Casey said, grants provided through UNESCO by the World Bank and Saudi Arabia allowed the university to continue to operate. “We did not experience the dire financial consequences that other sectors did,” Brother Casey said. “Hundreds of families in the area had no regular income.”

Students at the university also face unique challenges on a regular basis. Surrounded on all sides by the Israeli wall, most Palestinian towns, including the small town of Bethlehem, are virtual prisons. Students traveling to school from outside of Bethlehem are subject to random gate closures, military harassment and security checks that can cause long delays.

“I’ve experienced this myself, even as a foreigner,” Brother Casey said. “There are people who have not been out of Bethlehem for five years. Living in Bethlehem is like living in a prison.”

“This has an awful effect on people,” he added. Brother Casey believes the violence the world witnesses among Palestinians is oftentimes a reaction to what is happening in their own lives.

“Young men who have no opportunity for employment, who have not made university admission, have absolutely nothing to do. They are naturally angry at their lot and are prey to the political situation. It breeds a violent reaction,” Brother Casey said.

In addition to fostering positive relations among young people of different faith backgrounds, the university offers hope to many young people. As always, Brother Casey said Palestinians are looking for the way forward. With the lifting of the embargo and another new government, he said there is some hope.

“The idea of prayer has never been so pertinent as now,” he said. “I hope people will pray for peace in the Holy Land.”