Friday, 7 March 2008

New report looks at Christian beliefs among Chinese students and immigrants

Patrick Comerford with the authors of the new report on Chinese students and immigrants, Dr Lan Li of University College Dublin and Dr Richard O’Leary of Queen’s University, Belfast, in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin

Patrick Comerford

Last night, it was a real privilege to launch an exciting new report commissioned jointly by the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the China Educational and Cultural Liaison Committee. This new and ground-breaking sociological study looks at the religious values of the Chinese people in Ireland. The survey was carried out as a first step in determining the pastoral care the Churches might offer and in uncovering issues which the Churches might not be able to directly address but which our whole society needs to respond to.

The report, Mainland Chinese Students and Immigrants in Ireland and Their Engagement with Christianity, Churches And Irish Society, by Dr Richard O’Leary of Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Lan Li of University College Dublin, was launched last night (Thursday 6 March 2008) in the Chapel in Trinity College Dublin, following Choral Evensong at 5.15 p.m.

I launched the report as chair of DUFEM, and the large attendance in the chapel included representatives of DUFEM and CECLC, Professor Brendan Leahy of Maynooth, representing Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Mr Dong Huiqing, First Secretary of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Ireland, Dr Liming Wang, Director of the Irish Institute for Chinese Studies at University College Dublin, many members of the Chinese community in Dublin, and staff and students from TCD, the Church of Ireland Theological College, UCD and QUB.

In my foreword to this publication I write:

“The Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the China Educational and Cultural Liaison Committee are very happy to present this study of Mainland Chinese students and immigrants in Ireland and their engagements with Christianity, the Churches and Irish society. Dr Richard O’Leary of Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Lan Li of University College Dublin have carried out a fascinating and captivating original work of research that demands the attention of all who are interested in the new Chinese communities in Ireland, the riches and gifts they offer us, and their needs, hopes and aspirations.

“The Chinese are now one of our largest minority ethnic communities in Ireland, and this study shows a shocking number of them are confronted with racism and racial discrimination. Many are highly educated, and a significant proportion of them describe themselves as Christian. Although no-one knows the number of Chinese Christians in Ireland, the study may be indicating that this figure is no less than 6,000. But most are not interested in Christianity, and efforts to reach them by the churches have not been marked by success. Their interest in Christianity is often related to their personal experience in meeting church people and leaders and receiving either spiritual or practical help.

“This study demands the attention of all who are concerned about the needs of this community and who want to shape and deliver an appropriate and welcoming response. It especially calls for a generous response from all our Churches. We need to be more welcoming, we need to be aware of needs and differences, and we need to be aware of opportunities for practical help, advice and support. And we need to ask whether we need full-time Chinese clergy to work in Ireland.

“The authors point out that these responses could be collaborative. The partnership of DUFEM and CECLC in commissioning this work is a model for ecumenical co-operation and collaboration in attending to the pastoral needs of Chinese students and immigrants in Ireland.”

DUFEM was founded in 1885 by staff, graduates and students at Trinity College Dublin to work with the Church in China in mission, education and pastoral care. The Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin are Patrons of DUFEM.

In recent years, DUFEM has developed an exchange programme that helps students from TCD to work in China with Shanghai YMCA and students from Ming Hua Theological College in Hong Kong to study at the Church of Ireland Theological College. DUFEM is also engaged with the Fuzhou Foreign Language School, a division of the Chinese Middle School system in Fuzhou, Fujian, providing the opportunity for recently-graduated Irish teachers to teach in China. The Middle School was founded as Trinity College Fuzhou in 1907. In recent years, visitors to Ireland have included Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong, Bishop David Lai of Taiwan, and faculty and staff members from Fuzhou.

To view the executive summary of the report click here.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, Church of Ireland Theological College, and chair of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission.