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Allow foreign chaplains at Olympics urges Hong Kong sports leader


A Hong Kong Christian leader who works in a sports ministry says Chinese authorities should allow foreign Protestant clergy and faithful to serve as volunteer chaplains at the Olympic Village, to ensure the quality of the August games in Beijing.

"We have applied to send [Protestant] foreigners to serve as chaplains at the Olympic Village, but until now there has been no positive response. We believe they may have turned down our proposal," Johnny Yiu Yuk Hing said on 5 May after a prayer meeting for the Olympic Games six days earlier, the day the Olympic torch arrived in Hong Kong.

"At the last Olympic Games [in Athens], there were about 30 Protestant chaplains from different countries to serve, but we understand there are no foreign volunteers being admitted at the Beijing Olympics in August," the general secretary of the Hong Kong Sports Ministry Coalition said. "Untill now there have been only three local Chinese admitted as chaplains."

The Hong Kong Sports Ministry Coalition, which is affiliated to the International Sports Ministry Coalition, had served at previous Olympic Games by sending chaplains of different nationalities. The international coalition also says it is establishing working relations with the International Olympic Committee.

Yiu doubted that Chinese Protestant chaplains understand the culture of worship of different Christian denominations, and the cultures of different national groups.

"It affects the intrinsic quality of the Olympic Games," Yiu said.

The officially-sanctioned Chinese Protestant church estimates there are at least 18 million Protestants in China, but many other Christians belong to "house" or underground churches, say some analysts. The China Christian Council, which groups Protestants, emerged after China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when the expression of religious life was effectively banned.

The Rev. Dionisy Pozdnyaev, a Russian Orthodox priest who serves in Hong Kong and sometimes visits mainland China, said his church has been negotiating with the Beijing Olympic Organization Committee to be allowed to send clergy to the games and he believes there could be some positive results.

"We are talking with the authorities on sending Orthodox priests to Beijing [during the Olympic Games], and we’re waiting for their reply," Pozdnyaev told Ecumenical News International. "What we can say now is there are some positive signs, and we’re awaiting a positive decision." Regarding reports revealed that foreign Protestants were not being accepted to serve as volunteer chaplains at the Olympic Village, Pozdnyaev said, "the Protestants have so many local clergy in China, we the Orthodox do not."

Even though a small number of Orthodox Christians practise their faith in China, the Chinese government only recognises Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism as the country’s official religions.

Ecumenical News International