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Catholics in China's Henan warned not to cross 'red line'

As authorities strictly enforce revised religious rules, two organizations advise faithful that venues could be closed reporters, Hong Kong reporters, Hong Kong

Updated: April 18, 2018 08:50 AM GMT
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Catholics in China's Henan warned not to cross 'red line'

This kindergarten in Henan's Anyang Diocese was closed on March 14 after authorities accused it of unspecified construction problems. (Photo supplied)

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Catholics in China's Henan province have been warned that venues will be closed if they do not adhere to the revised regulations on religious affairs.

A clampdown on religious freedom has intensified in the province in recent months, with crosses removed from churches, minors banned from entering churches, church-run kindergartens closed and children expelled from Mass.

Now Henan Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and Henan Catholic Administration Commission have jointly issued a circular warning worshippers to take the new rules seriously.

It warned people to follow "the principle of religion and education separation" and the revised regulations on religious affairs. It said no religious venue should hold training sessions and no children should be brought to church by parents.   

"It was only propaganda and education previously, but now there is a red line, a high-pressure line, so take it seriously," the circular said.

It warned that if anyone did not follow the rules, authorities would pursue the person responsible and close the venue.

A Catholic who asked to be unnamed told that officials of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Huiji district went to North Church of Zhengzhou Diocese on April 1 and ordered all minors to leave the Resurrection Sunday Mass.

He said local officials had previously blocked minors at church entrances in Henan's Shangqiu and Anyang dioceses.

"We do not know what will happen next," he said.

Two primary schools in Henan have written an open letter to all students and parents warning them about religious laws.

The Ninth Primary School of Linzhou city of Anyang and the First Primary School of Chengguan town of Xingyang city of Chengzhou said in their letter that minors were not allowed to enter religious venues, according to Article 36 of the Constitution, the Education Act, Minors Protection Law and the revised regulations on religious affairs.

"No one may use religions to disrupt social order, harm citizens or impede the national education system," the letter said.

It stated that China had adopted the principle of separating education and religion, so religions must not intervene in national and public education.

"It is an offence for any organizations or individuals to guide, support, permit and condone minors to believe in religions or participate in religious activities," the letter said.

The letter said minors were at a critical stage of physical and mental development and had no independent thinking, so parents had an obligation to nurture children in accordance with national laws and social requirements.

Parents were asked to sign the letter and write down their children's names and classes.

Another circular widespread on the internet states that citizens have religious freedom but schools are places for education. "For the state to foster students to build up socialist society," no organization is allowed to use propaganda and engage in any religious activities.

It emphasized that citizens should engage in religious activities approved by the government outside schools, but students could not take their schoolmates and friends to participate in such activities.

Class teachers were asked to explain items on the circular and students were told to write down their names, teachers' names and the place and time when they heard the explanation.

Open church priest John told that the measures on minors and crosses in Henan were pilot projects conducted by national institutions. "If those measures are successful in Henan, they could be implemented in other provinces," he said.

The priest said that in previous decades the entire church in China or churches in different provinces had to face pressures from the government and reacted separately, "since they dare not to speak out for others, otherwise they would be attacked."

He hoped the universal church, especially its representatives in Hong Kong and Taiwan, would use their social advantages with media freedom to vigorously expose these extreme policies and exert pressures to rescue the China Church.

An underground Catholic told that one of the principles of the Chinese Communist Party was to keep minors away from religion, but local governments had tolerated the practice.

Since President Xi Jinping adopted authoritarian rule and followed Mao Zedong's course to consolidate his power, the party now strictly controls religion.

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