ROME, APRIL 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church in China has lived in clandestine conditions for the last 50 years, but a rebirth of faith in the country gives reason to hope, says the director of AsiaNews.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said this last week during a conference on the persecution of Christians in China, organized by the Lepanto Foundation.
In his presentation, the priest said China “continues to be a Communist country given the strong social control over people’s lives,” specifically in the area of religion.
He explained that pressure is asserted that affects all the more private aspects of people’s lives: from the freedom of association — subject to the government’s authorization — to the freedom to worship that is also limited, and including the ability to use the Internet, as many Web sites that are not in line with the system’s ideology are filtered.
On the day of the April 1 conference, a report published by Freedom House, a New York-based human rights group, released data of a study that found that China’s “Internet environment remains one of the most controlled in the world.” Of 15 countries studied, China placed last, tying with Cuba.
Father Cervellera also spoke of the situation of Catholic bishops who want to be faithful to the Pope, which he reported to be particularly alarming. The “spiritual” obedience of a Chinese citizen to a foreign state — such as the Holy See — is regarded as treason to the homeland and punished severely, he said.
The priest pointed out that, over the decades, many bishops have disappeared and their whereabouts are unknown; what is most probable is that many of them suffered a violent death and that their bodies were burnt to conceal any trace of the crimes.
However, he stated that there seems to be hope on the horizon, noting that in recent years, in face of the persecution or perhaps because of it, there has been an “impressive religious rebirth” which has filled the churches more than ever.
Antonello Brandi, founder and president of the Laogai Research Foundation Italy — a center that seeks to inform public opinion about the country’s system of labor camps — also spoke at the conference, presenting research carried out by his center in a talk titled “The Laogai: Executions and the Sale of Human Organs in China.”
He explained that the Laogai, which in Chinese means “reform through labor,” is a system of labor camps where people are compelled to work 16 hours a day under difficult conditions, without the benefit of social security, to manufacture products for the Communist regime.
Its creation goes back to Mao Zedong, who instituted the system in 1950 following the advice of his Soviet allies.
Though the exact number of detainees is unknown, said Brandi, it is estimated that some 6.8 million people are detained in the system, including dissidents of the regime — both politicians and civilians; religious leaders such as Tibetan monks, Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors; and common criminals.
Brandi stated that China has a double objective with the Laogai: to oppress political dissidents, weakening resistance to the ideology of the one party, and to acquire free labor.
The Web site of the Laogai Research Foundation USA explains that the number of Laogai camps is considered a state secret, but notes that there are over 1,000 documented camps.