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Authorities put the squeeze on temporary churches

HONG KONG (UCAN): A circular from the State Administration for Religious Affairs requiring organisers of religious activities at temporary venues to seek guidance from government-recognised Church organisations has raised concerns in China for fear it means greater control will be exercised over unofficial Catholic communities and Protestant house churches. 
 
The notice stated that religious believers who were registered residents, had no criminal record and possessed certain religious knowledge could apply for temporary religious activities. In addition, venues must apply to local authorities for a three-year validity period. The number of people attending activities was also stipulated.
 
The June 1 circular was reportedly an outcome of the revised religious affairs regulations implemented on February 1. 
 
Article 13 of the circular stated: “Religious groups have guiding responsibilities for the activities of temporary events. The activities of temporary events should receive guidance from religious organisations.”
 
On June 2, Ying Fuk-tsang, a professor and director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote on his Facebook page that if a house Church applies for a temporary venue, the China Christian Council and the national committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement can provide opinions about the applications.
 
“It is well known that many house Churches are reluctant to register and are willing to be an illegal organisation because they do not want to be under the two organisations,” he wrote.
 
“The notice that requires family Churches to accept guidance from the two organisations is an attempt to use the name of guidance to force the family Church to establish a substantial relationship with them.”
 
Ying questioned whether the move might interfere with the arrangements of religious affairs, such as sacraments, ceremonial rituals, theological interpretations and pastoral training and cultivation of believers.
 
He said many family Church co-workers were not recognised because they had not registered with authorities.
 
Ying said in May that the recent crackdown on various Catholic and Protestant communities was the result of more than two years of organisation and preparation at provincial, city and county level through the Chinese Communist Party’s increasingly powerful United Front Work Department.
 
Father Wang of northeast China, said that the notice was intended to control unofficial Catholic communities and Protestant house Churches and that they would not be allowed to hold religious activities at temporary venues. 
 
He said unofficial Churches were illegal and would not be registered on their own initiative, so the provisions would have little effect on them, but he believed they would impose many restrictions on official Churches.
 
Philip, a Catholic from Hebei, and Father Peter from Henan, both believe that if the notice is strictly enforced, it would be more demanding for the Catholic Church because the Patriotic Association would be in control. “How is this possible?” Philip asked.

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