New rules threaten church property in northern China

Dawn confrontation highlights fears that churches and crosses without stringent permits will be demolished
New rules threaten church property in northern China

The pillar of a demolished Catholic church in Puyang in Henan province in central China. The building was demolished to make way for a commercial development. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)

Catholics in China are increasingly worried that church buildings that do not have permits aligned with strict new religious regulations will be deemed illegal and demolished.

More church structures in China are under threat of demolition as the government continuous to tighten and implement the new regulations on religious activities that it launched on Feb. 1, 2018.

On Oct. 31, hundreds of Catholics in Handan Diocese in the northern province of Hebei gathered to safeguard their parish at Wugaozhuang Catholic Church as local authorities turned up at the village at 6am brandishing an order to demolish the building and remove its cross.

Parishioners and Catholics from neighboring villages flooded to support the church against land resources, public security and other officials who wanted to proceed with the demolition.

As church members took turns to stand guard and protect the church, police blocked the scene, prohibiting anyone from entering, leaving or giving food to the church members.

The confrontation continued until late afternoon when an agreement was reached with government officials, who reportedly promised to allow the church to be relocated to another piece of land.

In addition to a call for fasting and urgent prayers, Catholics also discussed how they could resolve the dispute on the legal status of the church under the new regulations, a priest told ucanews.

The church was relocated last August to the outskirts of Wugaozhuang on farmland purchased by the church from the village.

The construction of the church had been approved by local government departments, including the Religious Affairs Bureau, the United Front Work Department and the Land Resources Bureau, said a parishioner.

According to another source, however, local Catholic officials were told that churches and crosses not officially registered after 2008 would be removed. It was suggested that about 24 churches had been thus earmarked for demolition by the authorities as of May 6 this year.

In recent weeks, Catholic churches and prayer spots in Yujiang Diocese in Jiangxi province and in Fuqing and Changle in Fujian province have also been closed, according to an Asian News report on Oct. 31.

Crosses have been removed across China in recent years as part of a continuing campaign by authorities to lower the profile of the country’s fastest-growing religion.

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