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China churchgoers similar in percentage to Europe

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says he believes that in some regions in China the percentage of the population attending church on Sundays is as large or even larger than that in most western European countries.

Speaking at the residence of the British ambassador in Beijing after a two-week trip to the world’s most populous nation, Williams said the aim of the visit was to gain a better understanding of the Christian community in China and to build relationships.

"The astonishing and quite unpredictable explosion in Christian numbers in recent years is clearly connected to a widespread sense that the equally extraordinary explosion in the economic life has left many huge questions about personal and social values unanswered," said Williams at the end of his 8-23 October visit.

He noted, "It struck me with considerable force that in some regions in China the percentage of the population of China attending church on Sundays is at least as large and in some cases larger than that in probably most western European countries."

Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, which numbers around 70 million people, said that if China was to develop the kind of civil society that will guarantee both stability and harmony, the Church is a vital partner.

"A striking example of the state’s recognition of this was a statement from one very senior government figure about the potential significance of Christian Sunday schools in backing up the growth of a mature and stable public morality here," he stated. "I’ve also found in speaking to faculties and students in three universities a lively interest in exploring what Christianity has to offer to social and political thought in a fast-developing intellectual climate. The opportunities for the Church are enormous and its energy is enviable; but its capacity needs urgent building."

The Anglican leader said his group raised a number of cases of reported harassment of religious personnel, Roman Catholic and Protestant, and of lawyers defending them, and said the group was "invited to submit more details of the information we had received for further clarification".

Full transcript is available at: http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/releases/061023.htm

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