CHINA> Regional
Visitors to Beijing enjoy religious services
By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-08-18 07:59

Amid the furor of the ongoing Beijing Games, an Italian couple searched for a quiet spot to pray for their son taking part in the sporting event.

Father Peter Zhao Jianmin (center) conducts mass at the Catholic Church of Xuanwumen in Beijing, August 17, 2008. [China Daily]

Sunday, they found the place and time to do so - near a fountain on the grounds of the Catholic Church of Xuanwumen, in southern Beijing.

"We pray for a best performance from our son during the Games and hope that he can win gold during his match tomorrow," Carlo Cassina said.

His son, Igor Cassina, is a household name in Italy. The 31-year-old clinched the gold medal for the horizontal bar in the 2004 Athens Games.

"We are satisfied with the religious services being offered here," said the father.

The Cassina couple are some of the visitors to the capital who are making use of the religious venues and services offered by the authorities.

Churches in Beijing have reportedly been preparing services for the more than 400,000 overseas tourists who are expected in the city during the Games, including masses in foreign languages.

As one of the 20 Catholic churches in Beijing, the Xuanwumen Catholic Church celebrates two masses in English and one in Latin every Sunday, Father Matthew Zhen Xuebin, secretary-general of the Catholic Church of the Beijing diocese, told China Daily yesterday.

Other churches will also hold masses in German, Italian, Spanish and French at the request of overseas organizations, Zhen said.

"We have sufficient information on religious services being extended in the city, through media reports, brochures handed out by the churches and our friends living here. It's pleasant to pray here, just like everywhere else in the world," said a visitor from the United States, surnamed Nicholas.

The churches also have foreign language-speaking volunteers on hand to assist visitors and to distribute free travel brochures.

"Judging from the current situation, all religious demands by overseas Catholic visitors can be met in Beijing," Zhen said.

As a special arrangement for the Games, priests from the churches have also added the Games and the athletes in their prayers, Zhen said.

"Holding the Olympics is building a beautiful world, and this is in line with Catholic values of love, justice and peace," Zhen said.

There are now more than 100,000 Catholics in Beijing, Zhen added.

The diocese has 20 parishes, 55 priests and one convent, as well as a seminary with 20 seminarians, he said.

The number of Catholics has also been booming in recent years, with the diocese now having to train more fathers and build more churches to meet the demand, Zhen added.