China makes room for faithful during Olympics

Officials in China announced on Wednesday that preparations are in full swing to accommodate Beijing religious believers attending the Olympic Games this summer.

The flock of faithful heading to the Beijing Games in officially atheist China includes a number of athletes, coaches and spectators. Religious officials said that special sites were being set up in the city and local believers were being trained to hold religious services for them throughout the Games.

Fu Xianwei, president of the government-controlled Three-self Patriotic Movement Committee for Protestant churches, confirmed that Christians in Beijing and other parts of the country were undergoing language training for the Games.

The Vice Chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Liu Bainian, added that the Catholic community had started putting their members through language training so that they would be ready to meet the needs of visiting Catholics. He also revealed plans to hold a mass to pray for the success of the Games on the 100-day countdown.

Liu said that his request for Bibles to be placed in the rooms of Christian athletes had been met “positively” by the Games’ organisers in Beijing.

China is keen to use the Olympic Games to show off the huge economic and social strides it has made in recent years, as well as project the image of a religion-friendly country.

Earlier in the week, a high-ranking official in the Communist Party said that China should use religion to bolster social cohesion.

"We should fully follow the policy on freedom of religious belief, implement the regulations on religious affairs, ... guide religious leaders and believers ... and make full use of their positive role in promoting social harmony," Jia Qinglin, the Communist Party's fourth-ranked leader, told a news conference this week.

But it is the situation for the country’s own believers that continues to worry a number of Christian persecution watchdogs, including China Aid Association, which has accused the Chinese Government of a crackdown on the unofficial house church network.

In one February sting alone, 70 house church leaders were rounded up by more than 20 policemen in Shangqiu City, in Henan Province, during a Bible training session in the house of brother Xue Weimin.

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