Xinran, Li Bingqin, Anne Peacey (NJPN), Fr Eamonn O'Brien (CEC)
In this final report from last weekend’s National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) Conference in Derbyshire, I’d like to focus on initiatives which are already building links between Catholics in China and Britain. Also, new ideas that came from the conference.
But why build links with China in particular? Well one in every five people on Earth lives in China. China is a major military power and a key player in building a sustainable world. Many of the elements that make up the foundation of the modern world originated in China, including paper, gunpowder, credit banking, the compass and paper money. In Church terms, millions remained faithful to their religious beliefs despite severe persecution in the 60s and 70s, and the country’s 12 million Catholics now welcome support with their formation and social programmes. There was a feeling last weekend that we have much to learn from a civilisation which is around 4,000 years old!
Bingqui Li, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, gave an overview of China’s social problems. China’s farmers are losing lands and homes, as elsewhere in the world, and millions cannot make a living off the land anymore. There is a massive countryside to city migration, which has meant that 200 million migrants currently work in Chinese cities. These workers need social protection, especially since they can rarely afford housing and don’t have the necessary skills for most urban work. The ‘One Child Policy’ has created an aging population, and a generation of discontented people who have been forced to retire early, usually below 50 years of age. Mega projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam, have displaced millions of people and environmental problems are legion. Many of the world’s most polluted cities, for example, are in China.
HIV/AIDS is a massive issue, and it is one where Communist Party officials in one region reached out to the local Catholic community for assistance. The Diocese of Liaoning was invited by the local Government to contribute to the “building up of the harmonious society of China” by responding to the reality of HIV and AIDS in the towns and villages in its vicinity. Jim Simmons of CAFOD showed slides of his work in China as he explained that the Catholic Social Services Centre of the Diocese of Liaoning runs a HIV and AIDS programme that has been supported by CAFOD. It provides counselling and support to women and men living with HIV and AIDS. The Centre works closely with the local Government Centres for Disease Control and this is something that is quite unique in the situation of China where the faith based organisations are not normally encouraged to work in the provision of health or social care. It is a wonderful example of collaboration between a local Government body and a faith-based community. Some lobbying went on at the conference to persuade CAFOD to continue its support after the initial four-year programme finishes.
UK-based Cultural Exchange with China (CEC) is another important initiative. Over the past 25 years there has been a resurrection in the public forum of the Christian Churches in China and they have much to share with the world about their fidelity to the Gospel during difficult times. CEC was set up in Britain ten years ago by the Columban Missionary Society, other missionary groups and teachers with a special interest in China. It aims to promote understanding, co-operation and mutually beneficial friendships between the Catholic Churches of China and of Britain. CEC promotes awareness in the Catholic Church in Britain about China, its culture, history and present situation. It helps people in Britain to experience the current cultural and religious reality in China through exposure visits and other methods. CEC facilitates teachers of English from Britain to work in China. One of these, Michael Noonan, spoke at the conference about his work as a lecturer in a Shanghai university, particularly focusing on conversational English. “The enthusiasm and goodwill went well beyond what I could have expected” he said “and the young people really wanted to learn”. CEC also focuses on the formation of Chinese laypeople, sisters and priests, who will work in formation centres in China. In addition, CEC networks internationally and hosts Chinese visitors for dialogue on issues of global concern, including religious issues and ecology.
Follow-up ideas suggested by conference participants included befriending local Chinese students who are among around 100,000 studying in the UK, considering teaching English in China with CEC, supporting Church work on HIV/AIDS in China, and linking with Catholic dioceses in China. There was general agreement that there should be a willingness to learn more about modern day China. So, congratulations to the conference planning group which included members of NJPN, CEC and Leeds Justice and Peace Commission, who spent 18 months getting every detail right, such as welcoming us with ‘Ni Hao’ (‘hello’ in Chinese) and decorating the conference hall with Chinese fans, lanterns and dragons! It was a wonderful annual gathering of the J&P community of England and Wales, with the presence of J&P Scotland and international friends. And so many turned out for the planting of a plum tree in the Swanwick grounds in memory of Rosemary Read, who chaired the China Conference planning group until her sudden death in March.
So, last weekend, we experienced a little of Chinese culture – with Tai Chi on the lawn, Chinese calligraphy, a Chinese meal, and Chinese poetry focusing on human rights. We were urged to mark the special day of prayer for the Catholic Church in China on 24th May each year. The 300 Justice and Peace campaigners from across England and Wales met Chinese priests, sisters, lay people and Chinese students in an exciting dialogue which is new to NJPN. As a Chinese Church scholar speaking at the conference said, “I am so impressed by the NJPN, that so many people are so positive about China and ways to engage with it”.
For more information see: http://www.justice-and-peace.org.uk/