Rev. Cao Shengjie, president of the China Christian Council, gestures during a recent international panel discussion at Church House.
The Anglican church’s national office in Toronto hosted a portion of a recent six-day visit of a China delegation on religious freedoms. The visitors were accompanied by heavy security after receiving threats early in their visit to Canada.
The discussion at Church House focused on ecumenical theological education in Canada.
The 12-member delegation came to Canada at the invitation of the federal government as part of its Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue, and was hosted by the Canadian Council of Churches.
RCMP officers in plain clothes stood outside the doors of the meeting room and on the sidewalk outside Church House, the Anglican church’s national office, as the delegation arrived for its meeting. The location had been changed at the last minute because of threats, said Andrea Mann, the Anglican Church of Canada’s regional mission co-ordinator for Asia, South Pacific and Middle East and a member of the organizing group for the visit.
“It was because there were some fairly senior people from China that they attracted the attention,” said Ms. Mann. She added that she did not know if this kind of church-state dialogue would continue, but said that her department would proceed with new partnership initiatives as a result of the church-to-church component of the visit.
“The opportunity to have our Chinese church partners visit Canada was wonderful and it was wonderful to meet the new senior leadership of the China Christian Council and introduce to them the work of the Canadian churches.”
Ms. Mann said the Anglican portion of the visit was a tiny component in the delegation’s heavy agenda.
The group visited Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto, and Niagara Falls and participated in several panel discussions. They met with representatives of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, visited an AIDS/HIV clinic, a minimum security corrections facility, and a hospital.
Even though their itinerary had been kept under wraps, early in their trip the Chinese visitors were met by demonstrators who claimed to be from the Falun Gong movement, which is outlawed in China. The movement is viewed as a dangerous cult by the Chinese authorities, although believers say it is peaceful and focused on health and meditation.
The organizers of the visit included Ms. Mann, her assistant, Yvonne Tsang, and representatives from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Presbyterian and United churches.