Bishop urges Chinese Catholics to defend 'rights and dignity'
Call as government continues to take down church crosses
A cross is removed from a Protestant church in Wenzhou
Bishop Vincent Zhu Waifang of Wenzhou has written an open letter to Catholics in the diocese, asking them to defend their "rights and dignity" amid a government-operated cross demolition campaign.
The bishop apologized for his "belated letter," which came five months after the demolition of the Protestant Sanjiang Church in March drew international concern.
Bishop Zhu, who heads the open Catholic community, said he was "shocked, perplexed and could not understand" the current cross demolition campaign despite living through earlier "storms that were more severe and more fierce".
Bishop Zhu, 88, served in a "reform-through-labor" camp for 16 years during the cultural revolution and later was sentenced to prison from 1982 to 1988.
"I stayed silent and patient because I believed as some people said that this stormy campaign will blow away soon," but instead turned into a "wrong and unjust campaign", he said.
The bishop noted that the initiative began with the demolition illegal structures but spiraled out of control, leading to legal churches being demolished.
He said Christians should "defend our rights and dignity through our conscience, holding firm our belief".
In response to the demolition campaign, Bishop Zhu called on Catholics to pray the rosary daily, walk the Way of the Cross every Friday, and asked local priests to organize prayer services.
The bishop said he believed that frontline parish priests will have "wisdom from God to know how to handle the difficult situation".
The bishop's letter was received by Catholics in Wenzhou and spread virally through the internet over the weekend.
Soon after its release, a letter was posted on the diocesan website on Friday that demanded respect for the Christian faith and its images. The site was closed down the next day.
The council labeled the demolition campaign as "a tragic and ugly re-run of the Cultural Revolution".
Acknowledging some premises were illegally built, the council insisted that the issue could have been handled differently, not by forcible demolition.
While some people said the demolition was a reaction to the rapid development of Christianity, the priests argued that "underlying reason was due to the unreasonable political system and management … that could not satisfy the spiritual need of the people".
By July 31, at least 229 Christian churches were believed to have been demolished or had crosses removed during the campaign, with 25 churches in the Catholic open and underground communities affected.
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