Chinese Catholic Institute celebrates 20 years of studying Christianity

A Catholic institute in Beijing, the Chinese capital, marked 20 years of academic research on Christianity and culture and the promotion of evangelization in China and beyond.

The Institute for the Study of Christianity and Culture of the Archdiocese of Beijing was founded in 2002 by Father Peter Zhao Jianmin, vicar of the Archdiocese of Beijing, who graduated in canon law from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

Father Zhao is the first Chinese priest to earn a doctorate after the Church opened in China in the 1970s following the communist takeover, the brutal cultural revolution and the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the China and the Vatican.

Since its foundation, the academy has sought to study religions, especially Christianity, the local culture and to promote greater harmony between Catholicism and traditional Chinese culture, according to the new Fides agency.

It has promoted the study of various themes through debates, conferences, publications, seminars, forums, training courses, scholarships and international exchanges, with subjects ranging from Mariology and Saint Ambrose to doctors and fathers of the Church, the contributions of Chinese and foreign missionaries to evangelization and social development in China.

The institute was a pioneer in mainland China for having paved the way for dialogue between the inculturation of faith and the evangelization of cultures.

The academy … is also a force for evangelization, which belongs to the present of the Church and its mission

In a 2006 interview with UCA News, Fr. Zhao said it was essential to have academic dialogue between the Church of China and theologians on the world stage. To this end, it was vital for the Church to promote scholarship by adopting positive and substantive policies to support theological research.

The director of the institute said the Church in China needs to know more about the conceptual development of Catholic theology, which links the local Church to the teaching of the universal Church.

He suggested the need for “more research on inculturation so that the Gospel can spread throughout Chinese civilization”.

Since 2003, the institute has been organizing training and seminars for young people on the theme “Catholicism and ethics” and publishes the texts in its Revue d’études catholiques.

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Another major institute program is an annual Forum on Catholic Studies for Young Chinese Scholars which began in 2008.

The institute also collaborates with Chinese and international partners, including the Beijing Social Academy and the Catholic University of Louvain.

In 2019, during the XXIV Public Session of the Pontifical Academies, Pope Francis reportedly praised the academy for its role, especially on evangelization, over the years.

“The academy…is also a force for evangelization, which belongs to the present of the Church and her mission,” the pope said.

The first Catholic mission in China was led by the Franciscan friar Giovanni da Montecorvino, who arrived in present-day Beijing in 1293.

The earliest documented presence of Christianity in China is seen in Nestorian missionaries who came to the Chinese capital of Chang’an (Xi’an) during the reign of the Tang Dynasty in 635 AD.

The first Catholic mission in China was led by the Franciscan friar Giovanni da Montecorvino, who arrived in what is now Beijing in 1293. Russian Orthodoxy was introduced in 1715 and Protestants began their mission in China in 1807. A national survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2010 showed that China’s 23 million Protestants made up 1.8% of its 1.3 billion population. Officially, mainland China has 6 million Catholics. The Holy Spirit Study Center of the Diocese of Hong Kong estimates that China has some 12 million Catholics, including “unregistered” Catholics who reject the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

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