UK Catholics mark ten years of China links

By Ellen Teague
24 May 2011

Cultural Exchange with China (CEC), a UK-based organisation that builds links with the Catholic Church in China, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year – as part of a growing network of engagement.

“There has been significant movement in the last ten years in that CEC can now openly use its strapline ‘Building bridges between the Catholic Churches of Britain and China’ in all its communications at all levels of Chinese Church and Government” reported Columban Father Eamonn O’Brien, CEC’s Director.

Speaking at CEC’s AGM on 14 May at Vaughan House, Westminster Cathedral, Fr O’Brien told the 40 people present that this year’s ‘Blue Book of Religions’, published by the Chinese Government’s Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing has praised religions for the contribution they have made to the country’s celebration of its 60th year since liberation.

It is very significant that reference is made to 350 Male Religious, when religious orders have not been acknowledged previously. Now there is a statue of Confucius in Tiananmen Square, as well as one of Chairman Mao, symbolising a huge shift in government thinking and a recognition that moral values are necessary for the development of society.

Jim Simmons of CAFOD spoke on ‘The Faceless Epidemic: A Catholic Response to HIV & AIDS in China’. He reported that CAFOD was invited, as the agency within Caritas Internationalis that had the most expertise on HIV & AIDS programmes, to work with the Diocese of Lieuning in a three year training programme.

The local government Centre for Disease Control provides antiretroviral drugs but no pre or post testing counselling. The CAFOD-funded programme has offered training in counselling, HIV prevention and support, HIV advocacy and also the importance of nutrition programmes to go hand-in hand with the provision of medication.

Jim Simmons expressed his appreciation of the government’s acceptance that faith-based organisations can contribute to building a harmonious society in China. This programme worked in respectful collaboration with the local government of health care issues and was an example of a breakthrough for faith-based agencies.

The Work of the Amity Foundation in China, founded in 1985 by Anglican Bishop K H Ting, was highlighted by Tan Hua, who directs its Disaster Relief and Preparedness programme. Amity has its own printing company and is involved in a wide range of social action programmes including agriculture, education and training, health care and disaster relief work.

Amity runs a large and successful micro-credit programme which is available only to women. Whereas previously it would have worked independently of local and national government, now there is recognition of Amity’s contribution and also moves towards collaborative working.

Amity originally received most of its funding from overseas, but now there is significant funding both from Hong Kong and within mainland China.

Maggi Whyte, of UK-based Friends of the Church in China, reported that the Chinese community in UK is one of largest and oldest in Europe. Current estimates put the figure at 600,000, including probably almost 100,000 students, but excluding irregular migrant workers. This figure includes the rapidly-expanding number of British-born Chinese.

On the one hand, it is perceived as a successful group in business, academic and hi-tech spheres, but it is also characterised as having a sector traditionally confined to low-paid, low-skilled occupations in the niche catering market. Issues of concern include lack of English-language skills, which prevents good access to public services and employment opportunities.

Many Chinese people in Britain feel trapped in the long hours and low wages of the traditional restaurant sector. CEC and The China Desk of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI) and Friends of the Church in China (FCC), have begun an initiative with Chinese students.

An informal network has been set up to facilitate the exchange of resources, sharing of model approaches. It is hoped to set up a series of briefings for chaplains and other interested parties, to enable them to learn more about the Chinese cultural context, to find ways of interpreting the religious landscape to Chinese students and to make chaplaincy services more available.

CEC’s AGM launched a series of events during the coming 12 months to celebrate the 10th anniversary - aimed at promoting awareness of the Catholic Church in China and building bridges between the Catholic Church of the UK and that of China.

A series of parish awareness seminars are planned; Awareness conferences are being offered to national Catholic organisations, and a very successful one has already been held with the Catholic Men’s Society who now are building special links with the Church of China. CEC hosted a special gathering of Chinese students from Middlesex University on Sunday 15 May 2011.

The final event will be major the Annual conference of the National Justice and Peace network to be held from 20-22 July 2012. The theme for this conference will be China and speakers from China will be present.

Further information from: Fr Eamonn O’Brien SSC. Email yeboan-ssc@btconnect.com

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© Ellen Teague is a freelance Catholic journalist who works regularly for The Tablet, JUSTICE magazine, Independent Catholic News, Redemptorist Publications and the Messenger of St Anthony. She is also a member of the Columban Missionary Society Justice and Peace team, and chairs the Environment Working Group of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales.

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