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Churches, mosques to be restored

The government plans to rebuild or restore 12 churches, mosques and temples in the capital, Yang Xiaodong, a Beijing Religion Bureau official, said yesterday.


The move is aimed at giving Christians - Catholics and Protestants both - Muslims, Buddhists and Daoists better access to places of worship.


The news was confirmed by Fang Hailong, project manager of Beijing Fourth Construction and Engineering Company, which has won the bid for one of the reconstruction projects.


The foundation for that project, on which the Beijing municipal government will spend 12 million yuan ($1.75 million), was laid in Changxindian in southwest Beijing recently, Yang said.


"The church in the heart of Changxindian township, home to about 200 Catholics, will make life easier for believers because they don't have to travel all the way to Xuanwumen Catholic Church to attend service," said Wang Lei, venue and real estate manager of Beijing Catholics Association.


"Once the church is rebuilt, Catholics from Fengtai, Fangshan and Shijingshan districts in southwest Beijing, too, can attend mass there," he said.


Built about a century ago, the Changxindian Church used to be the biggest in southwest Beijing, but it was turned into a warehouse in the 1950s and 1960s.


"The central government has adopted a policy to gradually return places of worship to their old grandeur. The Changxindian Church reconstruction project is the first step in that direction," said Father Zhao Qinglong, one of the main coordinators of Changxindian reconstruction project.


In 2005, the Beijing municipal government listed the Changxindian Rebuilding Project as one of the 55 government "must-dos" to implement the central government policy.


"More churches are on the restoration and rebuilding agenda ... they include the Zhengfu Church and the Pingfang Church in Haidian and Chaoyang districts," Zhao Qinglong, a priest, said.


"Work on the Bishop Administrative Building near Xishiku Church, which will cost 67 million yuan, has already started," he said.


"Beijing is in need of more places of worship. The number of Catholics in Beijing is 50,000-60,000, but we have only 20 Catholic churches, eight in downtown and 12 in the suburbs," said Father Matthew Zhen Xuebin, secretary-general of the Catholic Church of the Beijing Diocese.


"The number of Catholics is growing as people enjoy more freedom to choose their religions and because more foreigners are coming to Beijing," Zhen said.


Wang Shunli lives in Changping district in Beijing's suburbs but attends the Xuanwumen Catholic Church far away from his home. After hearing that more Catholic churches would be rebuilt, he said: "It's great news I will be among the thousands of believers to benefit because we will have more choices to attend Sunday mass."


The Beijing municipal government plans to rebuild and restore two mosques, too. One of them is in Jianfang Street in Xicheng district and the other in Qianmen in Xuanwu district, said an official surnamed Ding, who is in charge of Islamic affairs in the Beijing Religion Bureau.


Associations for the other two religions were not available for comment yesterday.


(China Daily January 19, 2009)