A delegation of US religious leaders arrived in Beijing, China on Monday, at the invitation of the Communist government, to examine the state of religious freedom in the country.

      The officially atheist Communist China has come under fire from religious groups for its oppressive religious policies and reported persecution of independent Christians. In order to practice their religion, Christians, Buddhists, and Moslems must belong to a state-sanctioned association that repudiates all foreign connection, just as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association eschews any ties to the Vatican and many Catholic doctrines. Dissenters from that arrangement are often imprisoned and persecuted.

      Catholic Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and the Rev. Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals said upon their arrival that they are in China as friends, not critics. "We want to help the Chinese government understand that Christians are good citizens. They show up for work on time. They pay their bills. They're honest," Argue said. "We're not here to inspect but to share the importance of freedom of conscience," he added.

      An underground Protestant minister told Reuters that Chinese authorities would not show the visiting clerics the whole picture. "I think they are going to see a fabricated side, and not the real side," pastor Chen Wenjun said. "This is using the visit to publicize freedom of religion in China to achieve expected results," said the 31-year-old minister, whose underground church in the eastern port city of Qingdao was closed by police last November. "If they went only to officially designated places, certainly they won't get to see the real situation," Chen said.

      Mexican Catholics on Sunday strongly condemned a reported campaign of intimidation launched by government officials against the Diocese of Tijuana and other Catholic organizations.

      The controversy was sparked on Saturday, when forces of the PGR, a police organization that investigates federal crimes, made a forced search of a home and school run by the Marist Brothers order. The search was the climax in a series of mutual criticisms that started when Catholic officials said that the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was using the local government "as its private farm." Political authorities in Tijuana first threatened the diocese with the post-revolution religion law, an oppressive measure whose interpretation is confusing and has been frequently criticized by the Mexican bishops. The confrontation reached its peak when PGR forces broke into the Marist brothers school. The search lasted almost three hours and some material damage to the facilities was reported.

      The school's parents' association announced it will hold a public march of at least 3,000 people against the local government. "It will be a silent march, demanding the end of the use of violence to intimidate the Catholic Church in Tijuana," said the parents' group in a public statement. "The march will also express our rejection of the use of these kinds of acts to intimidate good people who happen to get into the party's way," the statement also said. The diocesan chancery has said that it is not an "official march, but comes with the sympathy and support of the diocese."

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February 11, 1998 volume 9, no. 30          DAILY CATHOLIC

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