Catholic Church in China continues to grow despite persecution

Nearly 50,000 people, possibly more, were baptized into the Catholic Church in 2017 according to Fides, the news outlet for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The report was published on February 15.

The official count is 48,566, however, it is suspected that more were baptized in rural areas and went uncounted. It is difficult to obtain data from rural Chinese communities for a variety of reasons.

The Church and China have a long, historic relationship which is difficult at present. The Chinese government is communist and atheistic and frowns upon all expressions of religion. Still, religion is tolerated, but it is persecuted to various degrees. The Church is only permitted to operate under the supervision of a government agency which oversees religious affairs.

This official agency permits the Church to operate, it does not accept the primacy of the pope in Rome. The result of this is two branches of the Church, one official but with minimal ties to the Vatican, and the other underground.

Clergy who oppose government control of the Church are subject to persecution, even martyrdom.

The Church has engaged the Chinese government in talks, but there remains the issue of who appoints the bishops. The Chinese government is unwilling to permit the Vatican to choose bishops. While the government still appoints the bishops, the Vatican does not often object since most people considered for the posts are inherently qualified.

Relations between the Church and China remain difficult, but Pope Francis has been working to improve them.

There are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China and the number continues to grow despite persecution. The Church often flourishes in the face of persecution, and the baptism figures demonstrate that fact.

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