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SPECIAL REPORT: From Communist Militant to Underground Priest

Father Bao's China Odyssey

BEIJING, JUNE 27, 2005 (Zenit) - Conversions to Christianity, along with consecrated vocations, are increasing in China, says AsiaNews.

Despite incessant atheist propaganda and the lack of religious freedom, many young people are reportedly looking into Christianity out of curiosity -- and some are joining the Catholic faith.

A survey conducted by the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing showed that over 60% of students in Beijing and Shanghai are interested in Christianity, according to AsiaNews.

At a time when China's Communist Party is going through a crisis of identity -- few people still believe in Maoist ideals -- many members of the party are taking interest, albeit secretly, in religion and the Christian faith.

Below is a personal story reported by AsiaNews. It tells of the conversion of a Communist Party militant, a university student in the country's northern region. (The names and geographic places in the story are undefined for security reasons.)

* * *

My name is Bao Yuanjin and I'm a priest in China's north. I entered the priesthood several years ago. I was baptized only 11 years ago. Before that, I was an atheist, and indeed an activist in China's Communist Party.

At university, I was the leader of the young Communists at my faculty. In my heart, I had many plans and ideas for the future, but none of these had anything to do with God who, for me, did not even exist.

As for my family, only my grandmother was a Protestant. When I was a child, I heard her once speak about Jesus: She said that Jesus was the son of God. But I was not interested in any religion. Education in atheism is mandatory in China from elementary school to university.

My mind was full of atheist theories and I thought that believing in God was something childish, perhaps something even a bit stupid.

Party activist

In my fourth year of university, I joined the Party. People in China sign up to the Party a bit out of conviction, but mainly to make "friends" that can one day help them find a job, and give them a hand if they get into trouble.

My life in the Communist cell was neither good nor bad. We students were good with everyone, studious and good at organizing all sorts of activities.

But I was struck by the fact that, in the Party, all these things, however good, were done not for the good of others, but for oneself, for the sake of career advancements. And then there were lies: These were the main feature among us: Everyone lied and everyone knew about the lies, but we carried on all the same.

For example: At every cell meeting there was a moment set aside for confessions and self-criticism (the exact name of the process was "criticize others and criticize yourself"). Actually, there is no self-criticism and no one really criticizes anyone else.

A formal kind of communication sets in, which can even become a form of flattery or adulation. Someone might say to the dean, for example: "Dean, I must criticize something that you did not do well. You worked too much for us. Yes, work is important, but so is your health. You must take better care of it so that you can do even better work for the community."

At times like this, a voice from my heart would say to me: "It's a lie, it's a lie!" But I too had to do this.

After some time, I became ill. I often had nightmares that even woke me from my sleep. One night, I dreamt that I found a package; I opened it and found a book in it. It was a Bible, all shining and bright. I woke up and recalled that my grandmother was the only person to have told me about the Bible. I remembered her saying that Jesus is all-powerful.

So I thought: if Jesus is all-powerful, then perhaps he can cure me! And so I looked for a church in the area and found a Protestant one.

But a Communist is prohibited from believing in a religion. Thus, I would go to see the Protestants secretly.

Fears and miracles

As soon as I graduated, thanks to the backing of the Party, I quickly found a good job in a big city. Before taking up my duties, the company allowed me to take a month to visit my family who lives in another region.

Toward the end of my vacation month, a friend -- who was Catholic, I later discovered -- gave me 10 cassettes with recordings of the sermons of a Chinese priest. After having listened to the cassettes, a battle began to rage in my heart: I thought that perhaps God really exists; perhaps the Catholic religion is really the true one.

But at the same time, all the theories on atheism studied at school and in university came to mind. I was overcome by distress, also because I feared that, in accepting the Catholic faith, I risked losing my job. ...

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