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Flare up over demolished Church property

HONG KONG (SE): A group of around 40 people from the Anhui and Henan gathered to demand compensation on October 18 from the government after a building which they claim belongs to the Church in Tianjin City was demolished by the authorities without notice.

The two-day protest began when Father Ma Yantao, the manager of diocesan properties in Tianjin, informed Bishop Joseph Zhang Yinlin that the 973-square metre property on Fujian Road had been demolished.

People at the rally waved banners and sang hymns as they picketed the Hexi District Committee Building and demanded that the authorities provide an explanation of their destructive behaviour.

Minor physical clashes resulted as security guards pushed the protestors away and barred them from getting near the building.

On the following day, the protest moved to the Housing Department of the municipal government as “officials from the district committee told them that they were not able to settle the issue.”

Bishop Zhang also arrived in Tianjin from Henan on October 19 and has remained there along with three priests and a lay person, as it was reported that the Tianjin government had promised to negotiate a resolution.

“We don’t know how long the negotiation will take and the bishop thinks the aim of the protest has been achieved so he told us to return home,” one person, who joined the rally at the site, said.

Anyang diocese owns several former Church properties in Tianjin. 

Since 2005, it has stationed a priest there to reclaim its properties which have previously been taken by the state. It was successful with three cases in 2007.

However, the property on Fujian Road—a two-story structure built by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions—had been left unresolved for more than a decade since as it was occupied by the Hexi District Committee.

“The Tianjin government confirmed our ownership, but it never proceeded with the necessary certification. It has never negotiated with us about whether it will compensate us with another piece of land or by money,” UCAN was told.

Before the declaration of the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many religious congregations—the Jesuits, the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and the Congregation of the Mission—owned property in Tianjin, a major seaport and gateway to Beijing.

Most of their real estate was turned into government offices, schools and hospitals after foreign missionaries were expelled and religion was banned in the 1950s.

Since a policy of returning confiscated property to the religious sector was implemented in 1982, some dioceses, such as Anyang, Hengshui, Xianxian and Xingtai, have been trying to reclaim former Church properties in major cities like Tianjin.

In recent years, more and more Catholics have dared to fight for their former land and put pressure on the government to return it.

“However, some governmental organisations were tyrannical. They just ignored the rule of law and refused to return the properties,” a blogger from The Evangelisation Group said.

In 2005, a group of sisters from Tianjin launched a five-day fast to draw attention to their claim to a former Church property. 

In that same year, unidentified assailants beat up another group of sisters in Xi’an when they took to the streets to try and prevent the demolition of a school campus, which was formerly owned by the Church.

Priests from Taiyuan and Yuci were also injured while defending property in Tianjin during 2005 as well.

In 2014, the parish of Yixingbu in Tianjin reclaimed a property after a 10-year battle, during which they faced similar levels of intimidation.

The Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong once estimated that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and government officials have pocketed an estimated US$16 billion ($116.25 billion) from the sale of confiscated Church land.

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