Bad weather in southwest China has forced a sharp fall in attendance in churches in the run-up to the Lunar New Year celebration, say local Catholics. The temperature still lingers below freezing point. The National Meteorological Center forecast more snow and icy rain to hit southwestern China again this week. Since early January, most of Guizhou has been hit by continuous snow and sleet, affecting three million people and causing economic losses estimated at 767 million yuan (about US$116 million). There has been significant drop in Sunday mass attendance. Some large parishes, which usually have several hundred attendees, saw only a few dozen on January 2, church sources said. More faithful returned on the subsequent Sundays only after the transport department spread salt to de-ice the roads and public transport resumed. In eastern Guizhou, an ice-coated church in Shiqian county still serves as the venue for daily masses despite its structure being dangerous, as there is no better place for parishioners to assemble. At another church in Huangping county, parish priest Father Peter Liu Xianjun said the church is safe but the other buildings in the compound have been further damaged by ice. Many churches in Guizhou were not repaired after the serious snow disaster in winter 2008, he explained. Father Liu has visited poor Catholic families, who are mostly from ethnic minorities in mountainous area, and given them some money in addition to government relief aid in the past weeks. Laypeople living in cities have also donated clothes to them. He anticipates Catholic villagers in remote areas will have difficulty celebrating the Lunar New Year, the most important festival of the year, due to traffic disruptions. The extreme weather has hit harder in Guizhou than northern China because houses and buildings in this area are not equipped with heating facilities, Father Liu explained. CH12958.1637
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