China’s Catholics go to camp
While thousands of American teenagers have spent their summers at expensive camps that allow them to have fun outdoors, students in Rui’an city in China’s eastern Zhejiang province did something simple and soulful this summer: They attended a Catholic summer course.
Maria, a high school senior, last year attended such a course offered by An Yang Parish in her hometown Rui’an, and she loved it. Her social skills and her emotional health improved, she said. She wasn’t the only one who liked it. When the parish, which is part of Wenzhou city’s diocese, launched a large-scale youth program last year, 430 students attended. Otherwise, the parish has only about 320 members.
Nuns and parishioners volunteered to teach the week-long intensive Bible study courses. Rosa Chen, a laywoman who helps run the program, said, “For Catholic parents, they cherish the opportunity to send their children here.”
While the demand is there to sustain the program, the parents don’t know if the camp will be open next year. The government has long limited religious training for children, which makes the program’s continuation precarious.
Like two-thirds of the 120,000 Catholics in the Wenzhou diocese, An Yang Parish is a part of an “underground church” that operates outside of the government’s mandated religious bureaucracy. Beijing gets especially skittish about large-scale underground activities, which is why eight years ago Wenzhou officials forbade both open and underground Catholics from offering summertime religious education to anyone under 18. That year, the diocese had planned to teach around 1,600 children. [More]