"Please pray for the pope and our governors, pray for our city and our president and our government leaders," the priest asks the congregation during the Prayer of the Faithful.
Built in 1866, the cathedral is a blend of East and West. Below its gray, Gothic towers and stained-glass windows sits a courtyard with Chinese pavilions and a pair of stone lions. The church's four Sunday Masses draw about 10,000 people and are conducted in Chinese and Latin.
Largely isolated from the Catholic world for much of the past four decades, Chinese priests perform a service that seems from another time. At the cathedral, the proceedings include the ringing of bells during the consecration of the wine and the host, a tradition no longer followed in much of the Catholic world.
And there is a Chinese touch: Inside the nave of the Beijing hTC cathedral sit several video cameras, which resemble those mounted on lampposts in Tiananmen Square to monitor potential unrest.
At registered churches, priests have been required to attend political meetings and plainclothes police often observe services during major holidays. In years past, informers have recorded sermons and passed the contents on to the local public security bureau.
Some government officials attend services at the cathedral, but three years ago, the party sent out a document ordering the expulsion of members who belonged to open or clandestine religious organizations, according to human rights reports.
Working within the system has advantages.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), religious worship was essentially banned and churches were shut or torn down. After China began to open up to the world in 1978, the government started returning many of buildings it had confiscated.
Last year, underground church sources say authorities shut down 20 of the city's 100 illegal house churches and arrested a priest, Xiao Xuxiang, who was sentenced to three years in prison for preaching illegally.
Yet, enforcement of China's religious laws vary from place to place. Some villages in Tianjin are heavily Catholic, leaving local officials with little choice but to look the other way. The Tianjin worshiper, who attends both official and illegal services, says that 500 families attend his underground church.
"If they shut it down, there would be more problems," he says.
Pub Date: 3/01/98