ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: December 27, 2017 03:45 AM GMT
Fire engulfs the cross on top of the Holy Grace Protestant Church in Tang He county on Sept. 20. (YouTube video screenshot)
Published Sept. 27, 2017
Following the demolition of church crosses by local authorities in China's Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces in recent years, Henan has now become the third province where this has occurred.
Even though the Holy Grace Protestant Church in Tang He county was officially registered, local authorities used a crane to demolish its cross on Sept. 20.
Video has circulated online showing the cross on fire after it was purportedly ignited by sparks during removal.
Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com that as far as he knows this was the first church in Henan to have its cross forcibly taken down.
A pattern seemed to be emerging, but it was unclear whether the removal of crosses was being ordered by the central government, he said.
Ying was unaware if prior notice was given before the latest incident.
But the targeting of crosses as religious symbols appeared to be in accord with national policies, particularly regarding major provinces where Christianity is booming such as Zhejiang and Henan.
A Protestant leader in Wenzhou prefecture told ucanews.com that authorities were becoming more cunning, acting in secretive ways and stating that workers had accidentally destroyed crosses.
The crosses of about 1,500 to 2,000 churches were demolished in Zhejiang province between 2013 and 2016.
Specific figures on the number of church crosses removed this year have been concealed, the Protestant leader said.
Watch citizen video of the fire engulfing the cross above.
A church official from Henan's Luoyang Diocese, who wanted to remain anonymous, told ucanews.com that the old town church, belonging to the underground Catholic community, was asked by local authorities more than a month ago to demolish its cross within a week.
There was a warning that if this request was not followed, the government would take it down anyway.
The Luoyang Diocese official believes the aim was to force the underground church to register as a venue for religious activities.
However, he noted that despite the deadline passing, authorities had still not carried out their threat.
Ying, from the Divinity School in Hong Kong said, time would tell as to whether cross removals have spread to more provinces.
There had yet been no such action in places such as Jiangsu and Fujian, two major provinces with sizable Christian populations.
But he added that the overall strategy of the Communist Party and the state was increasingly hostile to the practice of religion.
Ying also believed an announced tightening of regulations governing religious affairs was already having an effect, especially regarding the growth of Christianity.
Authorities in Henan province released a document in July stressing that religious organizations would not be allowed to run Sunday schools or summer camps.
Although official statistics are not available, there are indications that the Christian population in Henan province is the second highest in the country after Zhejiang province.
In 2009, the Christian population in Henan was 2.4 million, of which 300,000 were Catholics.