ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: June 05, 2019 06:00 AM GMT
The demolished church in Xiantao city of Hanyang Diocese on April 12. (Photo supplied)
Catholics in a diocese in central China are fearful that local authorities will try to demolish a church built only two years ago using what locals describe as an illegal ruse.
It was built to replace an older place of worship about 200 meters away that was constructed nearly four decades ago but recently deemed unsafe for use.
A source in Xuwan village of Xiantao city, in Hubei Province's Hanyang Diocese, said the government forced the community to tear down the older building, as local policy dictates that no Chinese city is allowed to have two churches.
The officials warned them that if it were not razed, no license would be issued for the new church.
Local Catholics complied and the older building was bulldozed on April 12.
However, the government is still refusing to provide a license for the replacement unless they agree to another provision: in exchange for the license, they must also remove a convent for nuns in the neighborhood.
"They told us the convent was dangerous from a structural standpoint," the source said, on request of anonymity. "But we don't believe they had any basis to make such a claim. It was just a ruse."
Church officials showed ucanews.com documents proving the convent had been authorized for use, that it complied with local laws, and had a valid license renewed in 2018.
As a result, they decided to challenge the officials based on the logic that their claims were groundless and unsupported by any evidence.
Nonetheless, given the power of the Chinese Communist Party compared to the weakness of both the official and underground Church in China, they suspect they will soon have to choose between losing either the convent or the new church.
"The convent has played witness to the development of our diocese (over the decades), so we cannot accept its loss," the source said.
"But if our new church is demolished (in addition to its predecessor), our community of 2,000 parishioners will definitely suffer (as we will have nowhere sanctified to pray and hold services)," the source added.
With a population of just 3,000, Xuwan is a famous Catholic village given that over two thirds of its residents subscribe to Catholicism in an officially atheist country.
The Catholics in Xuwan also represent 20 percent of all Catholics in Hanyang Diocese.
Confusingly, the Vatican has Xuwan listed under Hanyang Diocese, whereas the Chinese government claims it falls within the jurisdiction of Jingzhou Diocese. Neither diocese has a bishop.
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