Chinese evangelists flourish in Paris

Wed Jul 29, 2009 10:08am EDT
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By Sophie Taylor

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Ensconced in an unassuming hotel behind the main drag of Paris' Belleville district, 100 or so Chinese believers sing and sway, eyes closed and arms out, in a display of worship frowned upon in their atheist home country.

With rules on immigration easing on mainland Chinese coming to study and work in France, many are seeking out churches in Paris to ward off their feelings of isolation in a foreign land.

"There are a lot of students coming over from mainland China who feel lonely due to the language barrier, and seem to be searching for something," said an assistant at Paris' Chinese Evangelical Church surnamed Lee.

"A lot come to us to see if they can accept religion into their lives," said Lee, who left Taiwan for France in the 1960s.

Last Sunday, on a stage amid the pink taffeta remnants of a just-finished wedding party, a man read passages from the New Testament to the congregation to throaty shouts, in Chinese, of "Hallelujah!," "Praise the Lord!" and "Amen."

"When you finally let Jesus into your heart, you'll find he brings great comfort to your life," said one woman, who came to Paris over a decade ago and works as a restauranteur.

Immigration from China to France rose more than fivefold between 1994 and 2004, according to the Paris-based National Institute of Demographic Studies.

France, which does not keep official statistics on the ethnic make-up of its population, has also relaxed visa restrictions on individual travelers from mainland China.   Continued...

<p>View of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris from the banks of the river Seine in Paris April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>