LESHAN, Sichuan – It has been 33 years since Amity Printing Company (APC) – which prints Bibles for churches in China, as well as overseas – was established.
Last year, APC reported that since 1988, it has printed more than 90 million Bibles for domestic needs. From these, about 2.3 million copies are for the Catholic Church. These Bibles are then distributed and sold in Church bookstores across China.
Officially, there are 40 million Protestants and six million Catholics in China today.
So are Bibles still hard to obtain in China’s churches today?
For some Catholic parishes in China, this still seems to be the case. According to Father Zhang Zhenglin of the Leshan Diocese, which has 70,000 Catholics, the reasons why some Chinese Catholics find it hard to get Bibles is inaccessibility, financial constraints and a limited supply of Bibles to this area. Steady church growth is also causing a supply and demand issue.
“Parishes in counties like Pengshan and Mingshan are hard to reach and some parishioners are very poor,” says Father Zhang.
“Likewise, parishioners in counties like Luding, Baoxing and Hanyuan are impoverished and many cannot afford a Bible.
“At the same time, we are seeing a steady average growth of 1000 new members each year, hence supply does not meet demand.”
Indeed, mountainous regions account for 66 per cent of Leshan’s total land area, while the lower lying ‘hilly’ places account for 21 per cent. While contributing to the scenic beauty of the area, mountains and hills pose a challenge to the distribution of Bibles. Incidentally, Leshan is also home to the world’s tallest Buddha sculpture.
Knowing the needs of the parishioners in Leshan, Father Zhang requested 2000 free Bibles from the United Bible Societies (UBS) for his diocese last December. With the support of the UBS fellowship, UBS China Partnership readily responded.
The free Bibles were greeted with a very positive reception from the parishioners.
Director Shi, who is in charge of Hanyuan Parish’s learning centre, said that Bibles are rare in his area. “We are particularly thankful to UBS, for distributing free Bibles to us at this learning centre. This will help more Catholics who live on the big mountains to read the Bible more!”
Zhang Chunxia, 48, is a volunteer at Pengshan Parish who leads a Bible reading group. She was very moved on the day of the free Bible distribution as she looked at believers holding the Bibles donated by UBS. She said: “Now everyone can have one [Bible] on hand and we can all read the Bible together!”
An 80-year-old grandma from a deep mountainous area in Dingxing Parish is illiterate. When she saw others receiving the Bible, she thought it was a very good opportunity for her family to know the gospel of Christ. So she told the priest that although she cannot read, she would like to take one back home for her children and grandchildren. She also thanked UBS for the free Bible.
Another grateful recipient is Zhu Qiong who was raised in a Tibetan Catholic family in Luding county.
More than 20 years ago, an elderly priest gave her a small Bible. “It’s like a treasure to me. I love reading the Bible; it is the whole of my life,” she shared. Now that she is nearly 60, the small Bible is difficult for her eyes; she was therefore very grateful to UBS for a new one.
“I think the main theme of the Bible is love,” said Zhu Qiong. “We love others as we love ourselves.”
During the free Bible distribution, Priest Xiao of Luding Parish exhorted his congregation saying, “The Bible is the true Word of Christ left behind for us. It is the foundation of our faith. By reading and studying the Bible regularly, we will have an intimate grasp of the Holy Word and through this, we’ll experience peace and joy from the Lord.”