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GENEVA, Nov. 23 /Christian Newswire/ -- How many Christians and believers of other faiths are there in China? This apparently simple question was raised by World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia and members of a WCC delegation at their meeting with China's Minister of Religious Affairs Mr Ye Xiaowen and other senior officials of the State Administration for Religious Affairs on 20 November in Beijing.
Kobia pointed to the difficulty of obtaining accurate statistics on the number of people of faith in China. The WCC general secretary expressed concern about the official policies that contribute to this situation, and especially about the fact that figures of believers quoted are often low.
In response, Mr Ye assured the WCC delegation that the government will carry out a census according to international standards in the near future.
Kobia welcomed this proposal and suggested that the criteria by which churches in China are registered could be clarified via the process of conducting such a census, and the number of people of other faiths in the country be documented.
The meeting also addressed the country's rapid economic growth and resulting societal challenges as the gap between rich and poor increases and pressures are brought to bear on China's natural environment.
Mr Ye affirmed that the priorities of his ministry are "to promote good relationships between followers of different religions" as well as communicating to the rest of the world "the positive role religion plays in building up China's project of an harmonious society". In response, Kobia offered WCC support to facilitate interreligious dialogue in the country.
The WCC delegation was accompanied by Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council and Presbyter Ji Jianhong, chairperson of the National Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches in China.
Interreligious encounter: shared values and mutual support
On the afternoon of the same day, the delegation met with leaders of China's main religions: Mr Chen, president of the China Islam Council; Mr Liu Bai Nian, Catholic Patriotic Association, chair of the Catholic Council of China; Mr Huang, vice president of the China Taoist Association; and Mr Chuan-Yin, from the Beijing Buddhist Association.
The encounter was hosted by the Beijing Christian Council, and national, regional and local representatives of the China Christian Council and Three-Self Patriotic Movement also participated.
"No one particular religion has full monopoly on the truth. It is important to hold on to the truth we know while also respecting the truth in others. In this way we can avoid extremism of any kind," Kobia said in his remarks.
"In the 21st century," he continued, "religious dialogue must address the fact that religion can easily be used as a source, or intensifier, of conflict. But the more we get to know each other, the more we recognize the common values we share - such as peace, care for creation, justice for all people, seeking quality of life for the more vulnerable in our societies."
Some stories of collaboration and mutual support were shared at the meeting. Buddhists are helping Christians to build churches, and the Islamic community has provided office space to the Catholic Christian Council. When places of worship were reopened after the Cultural Revolution, a leader in the Protestant Christian community traveled to his home province to purchase and donate special wood required for the restoration of a famous Buddhist temple.
In describing what he had witnessed in the meeting, Kobia said he had been struck by "the testimonies of the religious leaders and the way they relate with one another." "Not only do they have shared values in searching for justice and peace, but they support each other materially." There are not so many places where "religions work so well together," he concluded.
The ecumenical delegation accompanying the WCC general secretary on his visit 15-22 November to China was composed of Rev. Dr Tyrone Pitts (WCC central committee member, general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, USA); Rev. Dr Seong-Won Park (WCC central committee member, from the Presbyterian Church of Korea, South Korea); Rev. Fr Gabriel Papanicolaou (ecumenical officer of the Church of Greece), Dr Mathews George Chunakara, (WCC Asia secretary) and, as consultants, Dr Monika Gaenssbauer (director of the China Study Project of the Protestant churches and mission agencies in Germany) and Rev. Deborah DeWinter (WCC programme executive for the United States).
The full text of Samuel Kobia's lecture at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary is available at: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=2668
Presentation by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia on "New visions and challenges to ecumenism in the 21st century" at a meeting with ministers of the Shanghai Christian Council/TSPM on 16 November 2006: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=2683
For additional information about the visit see also:
Free high-resolution photos are available at:
A more detailed visit programme outline is available at: