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Torch Travesty

So the Olympic torch goes on its way round the world promoting peace, harmony and protest. Some have tried to snatch the torch, others have thrown water bombs at it, some have refused to carry it, politicians have become embroiled in an ‘are-they-going-to-the-opening-ceremony-or-not’ debate, some have pleaded beseechingly for freedom for Tibet as they are hauled off by police, others have maintained that the West is the victim of an anti-China propaganda exercise.

An immense amount of effort has been put into making sure that this flame gets to China, that it stays pure. The importance of the flame, according to the International Olympic Committee, lies in the fact that it “transmits a message of peace and friendship amongst peoples.”

And there lies the irony.

The focus these days is on Tibet and the Chinese crackdown there. But there is a hidden travesty that is much wider, but less reported – the persecution of Chinese Christians.

• In March 2008 twenty-one pastors were sent en masse to labour camps.

• In March 2008 officials seized 11 teenagers at an 'illegal’ Bible study. They were held for 24 hours without relatives being allowed to visit them. Three were later re-arrested and sentenced to 15 days’ detention.

• A pastor, Zhuohua, served three years in jail in 2004-2007 for printing Bibles.

• Jailers in China crippled an elderly Christian prisoner after learning that he had brought 50 of his fellow inmates to Christ. Chen Jingmao, a 72-year-old, was so severely beaten that both his legs were broken. He now has to be carried everywhere. A source told China Aid Association that Chen was beaten because ‘his action, of bringing others to Christianity, had brought shame upon the Communist Party’.

Examples could be multiplied. A friend of mine who visits China speaks of having to visit churches in the dead of night so that they will not be disturbed.

There is an opposition to Christianity, and a persecution of it in China. If there is religious tolerance in China why do Bibles have to be smuggled in to the country?

And that brings us full circle to the Olympics again – the Beijing Olympics website says that “Each traveller is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.”

Why does that even need to be stated?

In Ireland we have many freedoms – the freedom to meet for worship, the freedom to have and read the Bible, the freedom to believe what we want to believe. We shouldn’t take these freedoms for granted. Nor should we ignore these freedoms. We should make the best use of them we can. And pray and petition for those who experience a restriction of such basic freedoms.