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Nuns Beaten Up Defending Convent in Xi´an, Several Seriously Injured

Updated: November 28, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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A Catholic convent in northwestern China was recently attacked by dozens of hoodlums who beat up 17 nuns, many of them seriously, reportedly all because of a land dispute.

As of Nov. 29, about a week after the attack on Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent in Xi´an, five nuns remained hospitalized. One may be permanently paralyzed and another could go blind in one eye. Two more suffered fractures, and others sustained minor injuries to their chests, faces, heads and limbs.

The attack, allegedly instigated by a land developer, occurred after the nuns defended their right to a former Church school adjacent to the convent in Xi´an city, capital of Shaanxi province, 900 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

Local Catholics told UCA News on Nov. 28 that problems began Nov. 22 evening when the developer demolished part of a wall and cut electricity to the school. That led to a blackout in the convent and the whole church compound.

Besides the convent, the church compound also houses St. Francis Cathedral (South Church), and the office and residence of the priests.

A Xi´an diocese priest who refused to be named told UCA News: "No prior notice was given to the Church. This has seriously affected the life and work of the clergy and the convent, and threatened the safety of the sisters."

At 9:00 p.m. on Nov. 23, about 40 young men similarly dressed with a white towel tied around the wrist stood outside the convent shouting and mocking the nuns. Some nuns went out to meet them, and several men told them they had been sent by the district education office.

About 20 nuns guarded the wall, trying to prevent the gang from demolishing it. "Then our sisters were beaten up with sticks," a nun who asked not to be named told UCA News on Nov. 28. "Some men shouted ´Kill them!´" she added. As the convent was under attack, some nuns phoned the police, but their calls went unattended, the same nun also pointed out.

One of the sisters on Nov. 29 updated UCA News about their five hospitalized colleagues. The most seriously hurt, 42-year-old Sister Dong Jianian, had injuries to her lumbar vertebra, and doctors fear she might be paralyzed. They say Sister Dong may have to undergo surgery and more extensive treatment.

Sister Qing Jing, 34, is recovering from an eye injury, but may not regain full use of that eye. Sister Yue Xiuying, 31, Sister Wang Maizhao, 32, and Sister Zan Hongfeng, 34, suffered head and other injuries. Sister Zan´s left shoulder is dislocated, and Sister Yue and Sister Wang suffer from nausea. The situation of the other nuns who are in less critical condition is improving.

On Nov. 25, the Xi´an Catholic Patriotic Association (XCPA) issued two "urgent appeals" to the city´s religious affairs office and the Beijing-based national Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. XCPA reported the incident and urged the government and Church authorities to settle the matter.

On Nov. 27, with no government department seeming to attend to the incident, about 600 nuns and laypeople took to the street lofting banners that protested acts of "robbery." They marched from the cathedral on Wuxing Street, through Xida Street and the Bell Tower, a downtown Xi´an landmark, but provincial government officials blocked them at Nanda Street. The group dispersed only after officials promised to solve the problem that same evening.

Local Catholics told UCA News that hours later, Coadjutor Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan of Xi´an and Li Boyi, secretary of the XCPA, represented the Church in negotiations with the government. The government was represented at those talks by more than 30 officials from various departments -- religious affairs, Communist Party´s United Front Work Department, district government, education department, provincial police bureau, and city police bureau.

On Nov. 28, after two days of negotiations, Bishop Dang and the government settled the dispute. The land, measuring 2.73 mu (0.18 hectares), is to be returned to the Church, for which it must pay 6.5 million yuan (US$803,000).

On Nov. 29 morning, Zhang Jianguo, deputy secretary general of the Xi´an city government, visited the five nuns in hospitals. Accompanying Zhang were Chen Zhenwu, director of the Xi´an United Front Work Department, and his deputy Wang Zhongyi, as well as Yuan Xiaodong, director of the Xi´an religious affairs body. They offered each nun 3,000 yuan (US$370) as compensation. However, some nuns told UCA News the same day that the amount is hardly enough to cover their medical costs, while those injuried less seriously were not compensated at all. Moreover, they added, the officials have not apologized.

Church-run Rosary High School once operated on the controversial land next to the convent. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the school was confiscated and turned into state-run Wuxing Street Primary School. In 2003, the school was relocated, but school authorities simply sold the land without consulting the Church.

Last year, the developer came into conflict with the nuns over the property, but there was no scuffle at that time. The convent applied for a court review concerning its right to the property and was supposed to receive the verdict on Nov. 25. However, no verdict was announced that day.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

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