Photo shows the Catholic church (left) in Shaanxi province before it was demolished in Zhifang village and the land (right) where the church once stood. (Photo from WeChat)
Nearly 100 Catholics protested the demolition of a church in China, shouting "Give back my church" and "Freedom of belief."
Authorities demolished the church in Zhifang village of Lauyu district of Xian city in Shaanxi province on Dec. 27 after claiming it was occupying land illegally.
Bishop Wu Qinjing of Zhouzhi on the same day issued a statement that local officials came to the diocese to apologize.
The diocese has set up a special team to negotiate with the government to resolve the incident.
“The negotiation is ongoing and will be handed over to the relevant priest,” he told ucanews.com.
Local Catholics used social media to show photos of the demolition and attached official documents that approved the church for worship. One document also showed that local officials had given the church permission to use the land for building.
However, without consultation with the parish, the local government posted a notice on Dec. 20 saying that the church was occupying the land illegally and it would be demolished on Dec. 27.
When the church was demolished, a cross was destroyed and sacred items were removed. People were strictly forbidden from going near the church.
The church was built in 1999 after all approvals were completed as a place for local Catholics to worship.
Nearly 100 Catholics gathered in front of the local government office in Shaanxi province to protest the destruction of their church, Dec. 27.
A source said on WeChat that a highway had been built near the church and the government intended to develop the area into a scenic spot.
“Therefore, the church’s land became highly beneficial and was rapidly demolished under the pretext of economic development,” the source wrote.
A local source told ucanews.com that negotiations were continuing and predicted the government would provide compensation for the loss of the church.
He also pointed out that the church could not be rebuilt on the same spot because the government claimed the church would be at risk of a landslide from a nearby slope.
He claimed authorities would need to provide land for rebuilding the church because of the large number of Catholics in the area.
“If they compensate only with money, the parish and Catholics will not agree,” he said.