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Catholic leaders caution against extreme reactions to China cross removals

hong kong (Agencies): “Whatever those in power do, their first question now is how they can best serve their own interests, rather than socialism or any common purpose,” CNS reported Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, as telling the Ninth European Catholic China Colloquium, held from September 10 to 13 at the Konstancin-Jeziorna Mission Animation Centre near Warsaw, Poland.

Referring to the removal of crosses from places of worship in Zhejiang province, the Hong Kong-born secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, remarked, “There’s clearly something behind these nasty actions. You don’t provoke the anger of the people by burning and ripping down crosses unless you want to achieve something.”

Father Paul Han, an official of the Shijiazhuang-based Jinde Charities, China’s first homegrown Catholic non-government organisation, said he also believed government moves were now underway to reduce the visibility of Christianity in the country and he cautioned against a militant response.

“Having previously been ready to encourage Christianity for its social and moral benefits, the government is becoming scared about its expansion,” he said. 

“Whether this is now extended into a wider clampdown could depend on how Christians react. If they resort to violence, this will pour oil on the flames and be used to justify harsher restrictions. There are good people on both sides, but also extremists,” he cautioned.

On August 12, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, issued a statement calling for a halt to the ongoing cross-removal campaign (Sunday Examiner, August 23). 

He said in his statement, “I sincerely and urgently appealed to the central government to contact the Zhejiang provincial government and investigate the real situation and stop all illegal cross removals.”

The cardinal called on authorities to “return to the right path, placing supreme importance on the constitution, ruling the country according to the law, and governing by the law.”

In an August interview with German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, Yang Fenggang, director of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, the United States of America, pointed out that “an internal government document issued in  2013 clearly shows that the real target of the campaign is Christian churches and the purpose is to reduce Christianity’s public profile.”

He went on to add, “The campaign document states, in no uncertain terms, that: ‘The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways. Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the façade of the buildings.’”

Yang went on to tell Deutsche Welle, “Christians are not and cannot be a real threat to the political order… However, the cross demolition campaign may have helped to awaken the political consciousness of Chinese Christians, forcing them to take political action to resist and protest the suppression.”

He concluded, “The measures against the Church by (the) Zhejiang government are not justifiable by the existing laws of China.”

Paris Foreign Missions Father Bruno Lepeu, of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, told CNS that, “Christians are clearly being warned not to go too far and being reminded the regime is still in charge and can do the same elsewhere.”  

Father Han said, “If the government feels the Church and its members are doing work for society which complements that of the regime, it will tolerate them. If it can decree they’re colluding with imperialists against China, there will be no further negotiation. It is essential the Church doesn’t give them a pretext for this.”

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