By Antonio Gasperi
MILAN, Italy, JUNE 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Perhaps the Olympics have never sparked as many hopes and disappointments as this year’s games are causing, says the author of a book on China’s preparations for this summer’s event.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and director of the AsiaNews agency, highlights in his book “The Other Side of the Medals: China and the Olympics,” the real price China is paying to host the games.
During a presentation of the book in Milan last month, the priest explained that many inhabitants of the city have seen their homes demolished to make way for sports venues, hotels, buildings and highways.
“The insignificant compensations received do not enable those affected to purchase a house, not even 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the center,” Father Cervellera said.
According to the priest, who worked for many years as a missionary and journalist in China, the changes in the capital and other cities involved in the games “are beyond imagination.”
He noted how historic neighborhoods have been destroyed and said that “very tall and long walls” have been built to conceal the neighborhoods where poverty and abandonment are evident.
“The government and Chinese Communist Party regard the Olympics as a unique occasion to demonstrate their successes and to make known to the world the new emerging China that has arisen, according to their view, from poverty […] to become the fourth economic power of the world, glorified by the games,” he said.
Father Cervellera suggested that the true heroes of the Olympics will be “the millions of poor peasant immigrants who flee from the countryside, in a situation of degradation, hunger and poverty, to seek their fortune in the large cities and industrial complexes of the coast.”
With round-the-clock construction projects, they have built skyscrapers, sports venues and highways with unusual speed, he explained. But these peasants receive tiny salaries and often are not paid at all. They also are not generally given health care, and live in ruinous slums.
The social inequality is ever more evident: 200 million rich individuals grow ever richer, while 350 million poor people are ever poorer, Father Cervellera lamented.
“The new rich aren’t at all interested in the weak social classes,” the priest stated. “The culture, derived from Confucianism in the first place, and later from Marxism and capitalism, have produced a spiritual aridity in Chinese society, in which the individual doesn’t count.
“One’s value is established by one’s role; the person has no relevance. What is important is membership in or protection by the clan or Party, and the state, with its vertical structure before to which one must always answer.”
Father Cervellera also spoke of the role of the Church in China and the relationship between Catholics and Protestants.
All religions are subjected to rigid state control, he clarified.
During the Olympics, the missionary surmised, police prohibitions and control will be even stronger, despite the fact that “in Chinese society, particularly in the middle class made up of students, and the academic world, there is a growing search for the meaning of life and desire for God; a search that is increasingly distanced from the myths and traditions based on Confucianism.”
“In Christianity,” he explained, “they are able to seek an answer that unites faith and reason, that encounters the person of the historical Jesus, and a new idea of God that might contribute to ease the social tensions.”
Significant in this regard, Father Cervellera said, is the unity that has been achieved between the “official” Catholic Church and the so-called underground Catholic Church.
The author explained that “human liberties and rights are virtually not at all respected in China, adding that in view of the Olympics a list of topics that must not be addressed at all have been distributed to the local press. Moreover, the whole country will not be open to foreign journalists and tourists.”
The AsiaNews director stressed that “whoever tries to […] defend the peasants or less wealthy people, supporting the legal causes to obtain just compensations, or whoever is opposed to forced abortions or defends exploited workers, is arrested and punished with years of imprisonment,” as “is the case of some Catholic bishops.”