Beijing-Rome Dialogue Is Possible, Regime´s Expert on Christianity Says

Professor Ren Yan Li Comments on Pope´s Plea for Forgiveness

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MILAN, Italy, OCT. 31, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAvvenire).- The Pope´s forgiveness-seeking message to the Chinese «is a gesture that I had been expecting for a long time,» says one of Beijing´s experts on Christianity.

Professor Ren Yan Li, director of the Department of Christianity of China´s Academy of Social Sciences, talked about last week´s papal message, in which John Paul II asked forgiveness for past faults of the Church´s children in the Asian country.

Yan Li is currently in Italy. He was one of the speakers at the Congress on the «Catholic Church and Contemporary China: Legacy of the Past and Current Issues,» organized this week by the Catholic University of Milan.

–Q: Following the Pope´s message for pardon, will you write an article to request the Chinese government to do the same?

–Yan Li: What the Chinese government does is the government´s problem, but I am sure it will respond appropriately.

–Q: Do you think your government´s position is changing in relation to the Vatican?

–Yan Li: I think so. There will be discussions within the government. A conclusion will result from the debate, which later will be manifested publicly.

–Q: You are not a Christian, but since the ´60s you have been concerned with Christianity. How did you become interested in it?

–Yan Li: I am the son of revolutionaries; this means that I had a very privileged position in China. I was destined to a diplomatic career and because of this I also learned Italian.

However, the Cultural Revolution then changed everything; my condition became a problem. I was expelled from Beijing and sent to the country to teach in a middle school. Then, with Deng Xiaoping´s arrival, I returned to Beijing, but the Cultural Revolution really changed the perspective of many people.

–Q: In what sense?

–Yan Li: Youth had been educated in Marxism, but what happened during the Cultural Revolution caused a crisis of confidence in those values. Many youths began to look beyond; they wanted to hear what others were thinking.

I had Catholic colleagues and I was impressed because they behaved very well. They were different from the rest; above all, they were always optimistic in life, despite the fact that their conditions were harder than mine.

Then I began to think: Perhaps religious faith offers something more. So I began to study.

–Q: Has Christianity remained a mere academic interest over all these years?

–Yan Li: Yes. However, now everyone needs me: the government and also Christians. You must understand that in China there are very few people who have studied the truth of Christianity.

When members of the government need to understand something about Christians, they have to ask me, because I have thoroughly studied Vatican Council II, and in China there are not many things that explain the council. So I have offered many courses in seminaries and churches to explain it.

–Q: Doesn´t the government say anything?

–Yan Li: My objective is not make propaganda for the religion, but to make it understood, to eliminate prejudices that cause misunderstanding. This is why the government also appreciates my work. Today there is a climate of openness that allows it.

–Q: Yet, Christians are still persecuted in China.

–Yan Li: It´s not like that. It is true: There are priests under arrest — however, not for religious but for political reasons.

If the government wished to arrest Christians as such, there would be millions of people in prison. Instead, they are not; only a few are arrested because, according to the government´s judgment, these believers have had mistaken contacts or used illegal channels.

As is true for every government, the object is social control, and the Chinese way of ensuring it is to arrest those who escape from this control.

–Q: However, there are recent Party directives that encourage support for the [state-controlled] patriotic church, harshly suppressing the clandestine Church.

–Yan Li: This confirms what I said. Religion is allowed. Only those who want to avoid social control are persecuted, and the clandestine Church is beyond control — it is a political question.

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