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Updated: November 23, 2001 05:00 PM GMT
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Four Catholic churches and ruins and a dozen other cultural sites in Macau are to be proposed as UNESCO world heritage sites.

The Cultural Institute of Macau launched a campaign in July for the inclusion of the sites in the world heritage list and applications are due to be filed through the Chinese central government in 2003.

If approved, these Church historical sites -- Ruins of St. Paul, and St. Augustine´s, St. Dominic´s and St. Lawrence´s Churches and St. Joseph´s Seminary and Chapel -- will be the first Catholic world heritage sites on Chinese soil.

Among folk religions, the A-Ma sea goddess temple and the temple for Na Cha, a legendary figure, are also on the proposed list.

Other proposed heritage sites include Dom Pedro V Theatre, Lilau Square, the Moorish Barracks, Monte Fortress, the Provisional Council of Macau building and Senado Square.

"Though these heritage (sites) reflect a colonial trait that some people may not be happy with, they are the symbols of Macau and assets for tourism that the people here have been relying on," Father Joao Evangelista Lau Him-sang told UCA News.

Father Lau, parish priest of St. Dominic´s and St. Augustine´s, said churches on the proposed list are government property and the Macau Church can use them only for religious purposes.

Macau encountered two religious persecutions in its history and those Churches were confiscated as government property, he explained.

Coadjutor Bishop Jose Lai Hong-seng of Macau told UCA News that the local government has assigned Catholic lay associations to manage the sites.

The Ruins of St. Paul, now a city landmark and an important archaeological site, is the stone facade of St. Paul Church. It is all that remains of a church built in 1563 and later destroyed in a fire in 1835.

St. Dominic´s Church, one of three oldest churches in Macau, is called the "wooden hall" in Chinese as the original structure was made of planks. Built in 1587, it is the only evidence of Dominicans´ early presence in Macau.

St. Lawrence´s Church, or "church of the favorable wind" in Chinese, was erected by Jesuits. The church, a memorial of Portuguese presence here around 1558-1560, symbolizes the peak of Macau´s prosperity.

St. Augustine´s Church was built in 1874 to replace a church existing since 1588 and named after a Spanish Augustinian monastery that stood there before.

Meanwhile, the renovation of Holy House of Mercy Museum, which will display more than 2,000 Church documents, books and ceramic items, is underway. The frescoes in Our Lady of Guia Chapel have already been restored.

The former Holy House of Mercy, the first charity organization here, was set up in 1569 by Portuguese Bishop Belchoir Carneiro, the first bishop of Macau.

The house is also called "paycheck temple" in Chinese since in the early days all workers of the organization received their paycheck at the house, and the altar inside was referred to as the temple.

The frescos inside the sacristy of the Chapel of Our Lady Guia was uncovered in 1996 when the four-century-old chapel was being restored. The Chinese-style frescos depict biblical figures and religious scenes, which were considered rare in southern China.

Mainland China has 27 natural and cultural heritage sites listed as part of world heritage. These include several Buddhist and Taoist sites.

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