CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Is target crosses or illegal structures?

HONG KONG (UCAN): Christians in the Zhejiang province of China, where authorities have been carrying out a massive campaign to remove the crosses from Church buildings, say they will remain vigilant amid signs that the hardline strategy could spread to other jurisdictions.

Although Christian leaders in the province say the campaign against the crosses has subsided since September, authorities across China have recently met to discuss the issue of illegal building structures.

About 150 officials from housing and law enforcement departments across China attended a Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development conference in Yiwu City in Zhejiang on October 17.

The Zhejiang Daily reported the government minister for the department, Chen Zhenggao, as telling the conference to fight a battle against illegal structures by learning from the experiences in Zhejiang.

News of the meeting has alarmed Christians in China, as more than 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in Zhejiang since a campaign targeting illegal structures began in March 2013.

The campaign, dubbed Three rectifications and one demolition, was advertised as being launched to rectify old residential areas, old factory areas and villages within cities, as well as to demolish all illegal structures.

Christian leaders in Wenzhou City, often referred to as the Jerusalem of the East because of its large Christian population, believe the state-sponsored cross-removal campaign has subsided. However, a Catholic person, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “We will stay vigilant.”

A Protestant minister, who identified himself as Luke, said he believes the scale and impact of church and cross demolitions in other provinces would not be as serious, since churches are particularly densely packed in Zhejiang.

Estimates from various communities say that the province has two million Protestant Christians and 210,000 Catholics.

Though cross removals or church demolitions on the scale of what took place in Zhejiang may be unlikely to occur again, sporadic cases have already been reported.

On October 9, about 100 members of a Protestant community protested in front of a government building in the city of Xiaogan, Hubei province, against the demolition of their church.

Radio Free Asia reported that local officials had claimed the church was built without relevant permits, while the people claimed that officials tore down the building because its construction had not been contracted to their preferred developers.

In Fujian province, government officials threatened to demolish an unregistered church in Mindong, where 80 per cent of the 80,000 Catholics belong to the unofficial Catholic community.

“The authorities had notified the parish that they would demolish the church on October 21, but nothing happened. Now they say they will send a priest from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to take over,” a parishioner said.

The Patriotic Association is a government-sanctioned body charged with controlling Catholic Church activity.

Ying Fuk-tsang, the director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the extent to which authorities in other jurisdictions target places of worship will be linked to the perceived growth of a religious community.

“Zhejiang’s religions have been developing too quickly in the eyes of authorities. So they try to justify their action through removing illegal construction,” Ying said in an interview.

“I believe they will use the same excuse in other provinces where religion develops fast, but a large-scale cross-removal campaign is unlikely,” Ying added.

Meanwhile, new regulations on religious constructions in Zhejiang took effect on July 10, despite severe criticism from Christians.

A rule states that crosses must be painted in colours that blend in with church facades and be designed with specific height-to-width ratios.

Using these guidelines, local Church officials in Wenzhou fixed a cross onto the facade of a new temporary venue, instead of erecting it on top of the structure.

The new venue was consecrated on October 27 as a substitute for St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral, which is under renovation.

 

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