Chinese mark interfaith harmony week

In News by 1 Billion Rising Lower Mainland Initiative reporter, Beijing

Hundreds of Catholic faithful in Beijing have prayed for religious harmony in a delayed celebration of the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week

Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing presided over a Sunday Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral (South Church) on February 27 to mark the opening of this first annual UN event. He urged all faithful to pray continuously for the prosperity of the country, social harmony and national unity.

All parishes were asked to hold prayer services for the special week, which ends March 5.

Harmony week was adopted unanimously by the UN General Assembly in 2010. It is to be observed in the first week of February to spread the message of harmony and tolerance among all the world’s religions and beliefs.

In his homily, Bishop Li encouraged the faithful to live up to the “Joint Declaration on Promoting Religious Harmony,” issued at a January symposium in Beijing by leaders of China’s Buddhist, Catholic, Islamic, Protestant and Taoist associations.

The declaration called for patriotism, religious harmony, opposition to the distortion and manipulation of religion and emphasized religion’s positive role in the development of a harmonious society, according to the website of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).

Following the symposium Bishops Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi and Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming, from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China respectively issued a circular, asking all dioceses to observe harmony week.

In eastern China, Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen said his diocese had made the special intention during Sunday Masses this week.

“I fully support people of different faiths putting aside their prejudices, seeking common ground while respecting differences and build a harmonious world together,” he said.

However, many other dioceses were less enthusiastic.

Priests and laypeople are generally wary, Church sources explained.

“This government-arranged event seems too political,” one of them said.

“Unity within the Catholic Church in China is difficult enough, let alone inter-religious dialogue,” another source lamented.

World peace and religious harmony are actually regular prayer intentions in Masses, they added.