CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Church demolition sparks fireworks in Shanxi

CHANGZHI (SE): Dozens of people turned out on August 29 in an effort to stop the demolition of a church in Wangcun, a few kilometres from Changzhi, in southeastern Shanxi province.
 
AsiaNews reported that people cried out, “Jesus save me!” and “Mother Mary, have pity on us!” as they tried to obstruct a bulldozer and the police who were trying to protect it as it carried its destructive mission.
 
Later in the day, hundreds of people gathered in the rain forming a ring around the Church compound, praying and asking the Lord to “make their heart less hard and influence them to act in accordance with the law of the state that protects freedom of religion.”
 
However, on the following day, the fireworks began.
 
UCAN reported that Father Chen Jun, Father Gao Binglong, Father Ma Ning, Father Shen Xuezhong and several other people were assaulted by security officers and the workers, who had come to demolish the property and its surrounding walls.
 
Cui Hewen was beaten by workers and suffered injuries to the head.
 
News of the assault went viral on the Internet, with some people calling for prayer and others for more volunteers to come to the site and provide support. By the afternoon, about 20 priests and nearly 2,000 people had gathered.
 
Since they were unable to continue the demolition, the workers and security officials left the property and over 200 men stood guard overnight.
 
“The security officers and workers left only to discuss countermeasures. I fear that they will come back,” Father Shen, the parish priest of Wangcun, said.
 
A former Church property had been demolished in 1992 and rebuilt as a factory by local authorities, but in 2012, the village committee decided to return the property to Changzhi diocese. A document verifying the decision was issued on 25 August 2012.
 
The document noted that since the original Church property had been demolished, the committee decided to allocate all facilities of the old factory inside the 3,600-square metre property to the diocese.
 
It also stated that the resolution comes into effect immediately.
 
“But in April this year, the village committee did an about turn, saying that it has to demolish the old factory and the fencing wall that now belongs to the Church,” Father Shen explained.
 
A joint circular issued on August 28 by the branch of the Communist Party of Wangcun village and the village committee said they would come the next day to dismantle the remaining factory buildings and fencing walls that had been illegally built.
 
The old factory buildings were put up by the village committee, but the fencing walls were added by the Church.
 
Father Shen said that plans are to build a plaza on the site. He was critical of the village committee for retracting its 2012 decision to return the property to the Church.
 
“We lodged a complaint in April. The local authority set up an investigative team that was meant to negotiate with the diocese, but there was no right of reply to their proposal and so they straight away tried to demolish it by force,” he said.
 
“If it is demolished, the authority will not give any compensation to the diocese. We surely will not agree,” Father Shen stressed.
 
Previously, the authorities had authorised the restoration of the old church, which is described as a small architectural jewel dating back to the early 20th century. The restoration work had begun four months ago at considerable cost to parishioners.
 
But citing changes in urban planning, the authorities have changed their minds and decreed the demolition of the attractively designed building.
 
Changzhi has a Catholic population of over 50,000 and the diocese has over 60 churches or chapels. There are 47 priests.

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