Chinese evangelical Christians in Rome, in memory of the martyrs

The communities chose the Circus Maximus for their first European public event that celebrates the apostles Peter and Paul 1950 years after their martyrdom. An apostolic impetus that also looks to the Old Continent as a “mission land.”

Jul 06, 2018

By Gianni Valente
The appointment was for Saturday June 30: more than 20,000 evangelical and Pentecostal Chinese Christians from all over Italy, but also — at least 3,000 from other European countries, met in Rome, at the Circus Maximus. They were mostly young people, attracted also by the Chinese music stars performing in the “Love in Rome Century Music Festival”: a Chinese music event in the heart of the Eternal City. “With this event, we want to help young Chinese born in Europe to preserve their ties with Chinese culture. We have seen that the third generation is in danger of losing this. That’s why they’ll all be Chinese artists, much appreciated by boys and girls. But the concert venue is no random choice, nor is the date,” said Antonello Ke Xinghai, head of the organisation.

“We knew,” Ke Xinghai adds, “that at the Circus Maximus, at the time of the ancient Romans, Christians were eaten by wild beasts or burned alive. We, being Christians, cannot forget that the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter gave their lives here in Rome for their faith in Jesus, exactly 1950 years ago. We will make a small gesture to remember them and all the martyrs.”

In their first European gathering, the Chinese evangelical Christians came to Rome to remember the apostles Peter and Paul, whose liturgical memory was celebrated the day before by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. Thus, the event of the Circus Maximus in its singularity, made publicly manifest — even in the city of the Pope —the dynamism and vitality of the Christian evangelical Chinese communities.

The seven (Chinese evangelical) churches of Rome

If today in Rome a Chinese person embraces the Christian faith and is baptised, most of the time, it also happens thanks to the witness and fervour of the local Chinese evangelical communities. In the city, from the centre to the suburbs, at least six places of worship are part of those communities: three along the Via Casilina, one in the Tuscolano, one in the multiethnic district of Piazza Vittorio and one in Trastevere. Thousands of faithful take part in the most important functions. But the evangelical Christian communities of Rome are part of an ever-expanding network that extends over the entire national territory. There are at least fifty community associations, which in 2009 also had a public liaison body, under the Mission Centre of the Chinese Evangelical Churches in Italy.

The history of the exponential growth of the Chinese evangelical communities in the Italian territory is told as an epic, connected with the growth of the presence of Chinese immigrants in Italy. A missionary adventure that interprets, in a providential way the migratory flow of Chinese workers to Europe and the presence among migrants of preachers and evangelical brothers. In 1981, the first Chinese evangelical community in Italy, made of brothers and sisters who gathered for the biblical readings, came together in Rome. Then, in 1983, the ministers of worship began to arrive from China: the first was Pan Xizheng, from Wenzhou, who lived in Livorno and then, in March 1984, he led the first real worship in Rome.

Since then, the network of evangelical communities has also become the place to develop operational synergies and entrepreneurial talents. Also in the City, Chinese evangelical Christians have a large number of restaurants and supermarkets, along with import-export companies that are developing contacts and collaborations with Italian companies and political-administrative bodies.

Chinese Missionaries for the forgetful Europe

In Rome, the missionary dynamism of the Chinese evangelical communities can even be seen in the Bibles distributed among the Chinese shops: hairdressers’ shops, restaurants, bars in the Esquilino area, and now scattered throughout the metropolis. A publicly displayed preaching, which accepts and even tries — on its own initiative — to register with administrative bodies and municipal police, and express no hostility, not even to the political apparatus of the motherland. “Even in China,” said Antonello Ke Xinghai, “we always prefer to act in accordance with the law. Mistrusts and precautions are actually reserved to ‘foreign groups’ that continue to fuel activities in Chinese territory that are usually always characterised by a certain anti-government propaganda, and, above all, to sectarian religious groups of millenarian imprint, widespread in some Chinese provinces.

“We have always said to our brothers and sisters to be vigilant with regard to these groups and their attempts to infiltrate among us. It is necessary to distinguish ourselves from sectarian methods of plagiarism,” said Ke Xinghai, person in charge of the event of the Circus Maximus, “so to be more transparent and free from any shyness in the proclamation of the Gospel. An apostolic impetus that is not addressed only to Chinese compatriots who have emigrated outside China. In time, we are overcoming the initial isolation in our linguistic community. Here in Italy, there are young Chinese who are following Bible courses in which only Italian is spoken,” explained Ke.

Contacts with the Italian evangelical and Pentecostal communities have increased. And the impression is growing that an increasingly dismembered and de-Christianised Europe could become a place of mission also for evangelical Christians who have arrived from China. “Many Europeans,” notes Ke Xinghai, who has a restaurant, “are losing their Christianity.

Hundreds of years ago, European missionaries brought the Christian faith to China, often sacrificing their lives. As children of God, we continue their mission, and we wish to bring the Gospel not only to Chinese citizens, but also to Europeans”.

In so many speeches on the state of the Christian faith in the world, China is still described as a place where missionaries should be sent from outside and where new “techniques” of evangelisation should be experimented with. The Chinese evangelists, instead, trust in the fact that from their experience of faith, they can come as witnesses to proclaim the Gospel in the cities and provinces of the Old Continent. And when they speak of the martyrs, their words about past or recent experiences of martyrdom and persecution do not provide an excuse for complaining, recrimination or self-celebrating rhetoric: the memory of the martyrs is only a treasure given to nourish the apostolic passion.

A dynamism that is not always found among Chinese Catholics: “Sometimes,” notes the Chinese priest Paul Han Quingping, animator of a well-known blog on the Church in China, “some Chinese Catholics, even among priests, seem all to judge the faith of their brothers and sisters and to demonstrate their orthodoxy, instead of proclaiming the joy of the Gospel and salvation.” --Vatican Insider

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