ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: June 08, 2016 06:11 AM GMT
Police conduct a roadblock to stop Catholics traveling to Xiaodiba Church. (Photo supplied)
Authorities in Hebei province in northern China have barred Catholics in Handan Diocese from holding a prayer gathering called by a local bishop as part of reparation activities following the desecration of a church 10 days ago.
The detention of several priests was among the measures used by officials to prevent the "Day of Repentance" from taking place on June 6, according to sources.
The "Day of Repentance" was called by Bishop Stephen Yang Xiangtai of Handan following the desecration of a parish church in Xiaodiba on May 27 in which the tabernacle was ransacked and holy communion thrown on the ground.
On June 2 Handan Diocese issued an open letter asking its nearly 160,000 Catholics to begin a novena the next day and join a special prayer day at the Catholic Church in the village of Xiaodiba on June 6.
Handan's Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee declared the gathering illegal and issued an "urgent notice" demanding the diocese cancel the prayer day.
The committee also banned cross-district religious activity and warned Catholic clergy not to disseminate false information or mobilize laypeople for illegal religious activities.
The banning order forced the bishop, who is recognized by the Vatican and the government, to issue a statement on June 5 saying the next day's event was canceled as it violated the government's religious regulations.
Nevertheless about 3,500 police were deployed outside parish churches across the diocese, a church source who asked not to be named said.
A group of Catholics kneel down and pray as they are blocked from going to Xiaodiba Church for a "Day of Repentance." (Photo supplied)
The police presence was particularly heavy outside the desecrated church, the source said.
"Xiaodiba was surrounded by police a day earlier. They grabbed people's mobile phones to delete photos and videos they had taken," the source said.
Father Zhang Yongyue of the diocesan curia, Father Zheng Xi'en, a parish priest at Nanmenli Cathedral, and Father Miao Junguang, parish priest of the Xiaodiba church, were taken away for questioning and later released.
Police have since arrested 19-year-old Chen Jing'en in connection with the church desecration and vandalism. The motive behind the attack remains unclear.
The police said Chen had stolen from three churches in the vicinity on May 27 and 28, local newspaper Daquzhou reported June 5.
See this video of police blocking Catholics from visiting Xiaodiba village.
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