A statue of a martyr saint has been removed from a Catholic church in Hebei province as Chinese authorities continued their clampdown on religious freedom. The statue of St. John Wu Wenyin was unveiled at Dongertou Catholic Church in Yongnian parish of Handan Diocese on May 3 but a source told ucanews.com that authorities asked the church to remove the statue after the ceremony "stirred a commotion on the internet." Wu Wenyin, who was executed after being tortured during the Boxer Rebellion in Hebei in 1900, was canonized by the late St. Pope John Paul II
in October 2000. The removal of the statue in the northern province follows an increase in repression
against Christians across China, particularly in Henan, the province with the most Christians. The crackdown on Catholic and Protestant communities was the result of more than two years of organization and preparation at provincial, city and county level through the Chinese Communist Party's increasingly powerful United Front Work Department, Professor Ying Fuk-tsang
, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com recently. "After examining [President] Xi Jinping's new religious policy, there is reason to believe the party's central committee is trying to suppress rapid growth among religions," he said. In Henan, churches have been seized, kindergartens closed and children prohibited from attending Mass and church services. The statue of Wu Wenyin was removed by diocese officials who hope they will be able to put in back in place soon. An online blogger named Yifeng, who is suspected of having an official information channel, wrote an article saying that Handan Diocese's erection of the statue obviously contradicted the political position of the party, the state and One Association and One Conference (the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the bishops' conference). He said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had made a strong protest about the statue while One Association and One Conference had issued a statement saying: "This is a public humiliation and contempt for people and the church in China, and it is something that we absolutely cannot tolerate and accept." Yifeng said the canonization of saints is a privilege of the Holy See. This was the first time that the church on the mainland had publicly erected a statue of one of the saints canonized by the Holy See in 2000. The action was "brazenly declaring war against the principle of independence, autonomy and self-running of the church," he said. He believed that if it the issue was not dealt with, all dioceses across China would follow suit. He also described it as "an openly unscrupulous expression of position, which is so hideous." Yifeng questioned whether the church had submitted an application to the local religious affairs department to erect the statue.