Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Catholicism: Stagnant in China, Troubled in India

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Catholicism: Stagnant in China, Troubled in India

Article excerpt

Spirituality is flourishing in today's China, despite strong controls from an officially atheistic state. Pentecostal Christianity, Islam and even revamped forms of Taoist thought are growing like gangbusters. For example, a slim volume called Notes on Reading the Analects--a sort of Confucian Chicken Soup for the Soul--sold between 3 and 4 million copies in 2007, making it one of the biggest best-sellers in China since Mao's "Little Red Book."

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Yet China's booming "soul market" seems to have bypassed the Catholic church. In 1949, there were 3.3 million Catholics, while the most common estimate today is 12 million. Over that time China's population increased by a factor of four, meaning that Catholic growth has done little more than keep pace. A half-century ago, Chinese Protestantism was three and a half times smaller than Catholicism; today, it is at least three and a half times larger.

Experts say that at least four factors account for this Catholic underperformance:

* A severe priest shortage and severe government controls on the bishops;

* The rural, insulated character of Catholicism in the country;

* A schism between an aboveground church that accepts government regulation, and a catacombs church ferociously loyal to Rome;

* A missionary strategy premised on waiting for the government to loosen controls on religious freedom, rather than acting in the here-and-now.

Meanwhile in India, Catholics represent just 1.6 percent of the population, but the country is so big that this still works out to a sizeable Catholic community of 17.6 million. The Catholic population has grown well ahead of overall population expansion, and is expected to reach at least 26 million by mid-century.

This growth is due in part to the wide respect the church enjoys for its network of schools, hospitals and social service centers. …

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