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Unofficial Church worried over investment in city

HONG KONG (UCAN): The unofficial Catholic community in the northern Hebei province of China is worried that an enormous economic project will increase government suppression of their faith.
In one of the cities that will be affected by the proposed Xiongan New District development, Catholics say that they believe the government will use the project to act against the Church.
“It is hard to say how this far-reaching project will affect the Church, but maintaining stability is always something we can expect under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party,” Paul, a lay leader in Baoding, said.
The Chinese government has described the creation of the Xiongan New District in Hebei as “a significant historical and strategic choice” that will mimic the success of special economic zones in southern Shenzhen and eastern Shanghai.
The development is expected to initially cover 100 square kilometres and eventually expand to 2,000 square kilometres.
Paul said that the concern is that if the priests and their Church premises are not registered with the authorities, then this could become an excuse for the government to remove them in the name of development.
The new district, announced on April 1, will combine Anxin, Rongcheng and Xiongxian counties near Beijing, Tianjin and Baoding cities.
The three counties are covered by the Baoding diocese, a traditional stronghold of the unofficial Church community, with 150,000 people served by more than 100 priests.
The government has long suppressed Catholics in the area.
Paul cited a conversation with the village committee as an example. “The village committee came to my house recently and told me not to hold Mass at home during Holy Week and Easter,” he said.
“We are all targets,” he continued. “The development looks like nothing special, but the Communist authorities are very nervous actually.”
Others in Baoding are closely observing to see what the impact may be. “We still don’t know how the Church will be affected,” a representative of the diocese said.
Peter Zhang, a Catholic blogger in Hebei, added that security officers have approached him recently  to get an understanding of the situation of the local Church.
“They asked whether I have contact with Baoding and Tianjin or not. They wanted to master the situation soon after the announcement. International media and investors have been attracted to the place and the government has to ensure stability,” he explained.
Xinhua reported on April 1 that the project is expected to play a central role in the plan of the president, Xi Jinping, to integrate development.
Many non-government facilities are expected to be relocated from Beijing to the new district, including markets, schools, research institutions and hospitals.
Once the announcement came, property speculation surged in the proposed district so much that the government froze trading of properties.
Hebei is estimated to have a Catholic population of nearly one million people.

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