But China Showing Signs of Change

ROME, MARCH 19, 2007 (ZENIT.org).- The path toward religious freedom continues to be full of obstacles, concluded participants at a convention held in Rome.

"The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom" was organized by the Acton Institute last Wednesday at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. The seminar was part of an ongoing series marking the 1991 encyclical "Centesium Annus."

Father Robert Sirico, president of Acton, underlined that the "fundamental error of today's secularism is the misunderstanding of the true essence of human nature. John Paul II, in 'Centesimus Annus,' had already underlined the importance of religious freedom as the source of all other freedoms.

"Benedict XVI, for his part, has wished to distinguish between the two forms of secularism: the one which, justly distinguishes the religious sphere of power from the civil one, and the deteriorating secularism that wished to ban any sort of religious symbol, denying the fact of religious freedom."

Cardinal Julián Herranz said that the topic of religious freedom is especially important today: "This is a topic that has become urgent once again, following the spreading of religious fundamentalism, especially Islamic terrorism, but also lay fundamentalism typically European.

"Freedom of religion is in danger not only in China or in nations where the Shariah is in force, but also here in Europe, where, in many nations, the concept of the lay state has become confused and religious freedom has been interpreted as a concession, rather than a right to be guaranteed and promoted."


The case of China was considered at the lecture series.

Raphaela Maria Schmid, philosophy professor at the Pontifical Gregorian Institute, saw positive signs in the "progressive closeness between the patriotic church and the Church of Rome and the always increasing interest among the intellectual elite, in religion."

"The biggest obstacle, therefore," she said, "is the fact that the patriotic church has been 'tamed' by the regime, especially on themes such as birth control, and the Gospel is shaped and manipulated by social needs."

Father Bernardo Cervellera, missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and director of AsiaNews, spoke of growing religious conviction in China.

"According to government statistics, among the people in the one party almost 12 million people are tied to some religious organization, of those 5 million are regulars and convinced," he said. "Three hundred million believers -- 100 million according to official data -- in the whole nation are an authentic 'failure' to the regime.

"The comforting news is that this rebirth involves above all the young generations and people under 30 years old. The phenomenon [of religious rebirth] as was stated, involves the elite and the more cultured people and this definitely denounces the myth of an obscurantist religion."