China resumes cross removals as virus subsides
Under less pressure from Covid-19, officials are eliminating religious symbols from public places
The cross of Lingkun St. Michael Church of Yongqiang Parish in Wenzhou is taken off its steeple in October 2018 on the orders of communist authorities. (Photo supplied)
The communist administration in China has started another wave of cross removals as the coronavirus pandemic reportedly subsides on the mainland.
In the past two weeks, authorities have removed crosses from the top of two church buildings, sources told UCA News on April 27. They fear more such actions.
The removals began as the administration reported the discharge of the last Covid-19 patient in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus was first reported last December.
China's National Health Commission said the entire country reported only three cases of Covid-19 on April 26. Two were Chinese people returning from abroad, while one contracted it through local transmission.
The cross removals began as government officials became relatively free from the pressure of fighting the pandemic, Christian leaders said.
Authorities removed the cross of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Anhui Diocese on April 18, said John, a source in the diocese.
He said the church was considered part of the state-recognized open church but had no priests or nuns to lead its religious activities. Parishioners themselves managed its religious programs.
Five days before the incident, John said, parish leaders approached local authorities about repairing the building. But officials said the plan was to remove the crosses of both Catholic and Protestant churches in the area.
A local government official, known as the community director, on April 16 asked parishioners for the keys to the church. “They wanted to enter the church and remove the cross,” John said.
The parishioners reported the developments to Bishop Liu Xinhong of Anhui. He directed them to go to the local office of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and ask for details. But local officials of the association denied having information on the matter.
The community director told the parishioners on April 17 that officials were acting on the “directions from superiors.” However, no documents were produced to prove the claim.
On April 18, the community director led a team of young people to remove the cross.
In another incident in Anhui Diocese on April 19, a cross was removed from a church in Yongqiao district of Suzhou City around 4am, probably to avoid Catholics gathering in opposition, parishioner Paul said. The cross was originally scheduled to be removed in the afternoon.
The early-hours operation was carried out under police protection. Police officers did not allow people to enter the church, gather outside or take pictures. A mobile phone was taken away when someone took a picture.
In the latest incident on April 27, authorities attempted to remove the cross of a Protestant church in Suzhou Road in Hefei City.
“The same routine and tactics are used all across China,” said Father Chen from Anhui. “This is not the case of a particular diocese or province. It is happening all over the mainland, but the mainland Church is silent.”
He believes Anhui will face more cross removals. “If the churches don’t unite to resist, many more crosses will be removed,” he said.
Handan Diocese in Hebei province is also facing the removal of crosses or even the demolition of entire church buildings.
A senior member of the clergy, who did not want to be named, said the diocese recently received a notice from authorities asking for the removal of crosses outside four churches in Feixiang.
The senior priest told UCA News that from 2019 Catholics and other religions had been asked to make changes in their "not legal buildings” to make them legal following the requirements of the law.
He said in a sense these actions cannot be called the removal of crosses because those churches are not registered with the state for religious activity.
“After the religious symbol is removed, the church is changed into an activity centre, a nursing home or something like that. It is no longer a church,” he said.
Since October 2018, hundreds of crosses across China have been removed. Dioceses in Zhejiang, Henan, Hebei and Guizhou provinces have witnessed several crosses being removed, allegedly after they violated planning laws.
In October 2019, a church in Guantao County in Hebei was demolished because it was accused of “illegally occupying cultivated land.” This year alone, the crosses of two churches in Qiu County in Hebei have been removed.
Priests said dioceses normally will cooperate in removing crosses in the hope of saving the church building.
Father Chen said persecution of the Church has increased since the Vatican signed an agreement with China in September 2018 on appointing bishops. The provisional agreement allows the pope to appoint and veto bishops appointed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The agreement aims to merge the state-run open church with the underground church loyal to the Vatican.
Father Chen said the CCP did not give up persecution even when Covid-19 was raging in China. He called on Catholics across the globe to join together and speak out to restore the rights of Christians in China.
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