Religion an Unanticipated Visitor to China for Olympic Games

February 25, 2007

Author: Bettye Wells Miller

Source: The Press-Enterprise

When Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles visited Beijing last year, he posed a question that stumped his Chinese hosts: Have you considered the religious practices of athletes, officials and visitors attending the 2008 Olympic Games?

The answer was "No," Zhong Jianhua, China's consul general in Los Angeles, said in an interview and a speech to the World Affairs Council of Inland Southern California in Riverside this month.

Now, the People's Republic of China -- a nation the U.S. State Department has listed as a "country of particular concern" since 1999 because of religious persecution -- is preparing for more than 500,000 foreign visitors, among them practitioners of the world's major religions.

Since Mahony's visit, Olympic organizers have developed plans to provide for a variety of religions, from Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity to Sunni and Shia Islam, Zhong said. The religious diversity of the Games' participants will challenge a communist government that regulates churches, the Internet and the ability to assemble in public, some religious-freedom advocates said.

Every Olympic Games includes a multifaith center in the Olympic Village for athletes and team officials, Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, said in an e-mail.