Beijing Wary as Religion Flourishes in China

Catholics receive Holy Communion at Beijing's Immaculate Conception Cathedral. i i

Catholics receive Holy Communion during an early morning mass at Beijing's Immaculate Conception Cathedral on May 9, 2006. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Catholics receive Holy Communion at Beijing's Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Catholics receive Holy Communion during an early morning mass at Beijing's Immaculate Conception Cathedral on May 9, 2006.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

According to government estimates, there are more than 200 million religious believers in China. Officially recognized religions are permitted to worship in state-approved facilities, and there also has been an explosion of underground religious groups — people who gather in so-called house churches, tolerated in some provinces and suppressed in others.

Buddhists account for nearly half the 200 million religious adherents, and the ranks of Muslims, Catholics and Protestants are also growing. By the government figures, there are now more Catholics in China than there are in Ireland.

But numbers only tell part of the story. Some in the government worry that even the sanctioned religious groups represent a challenge to Communist Party ideology, with the potential to organize opposition.

Over the last decade, Beijing has cracked down on the Falun Gong religious movement. Earlier this year, the Vatican clashed with Chinese officials over the pope's right to appoint his own bishops in China. Just Wednesday, the Chinese government condemned Mongolia for hosting the Dalai Lama, who they view as an enemy of the state.

Richard Madsen, author of China's Catholics: Tragedy and Hope in an Emerging Civil Society, talks about the dramatic revival of religion in the country.

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