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UCA News

China

Catholics Beaten, Threatened Over Disputed Church Property

Updated: July 11, 2008 12:15 PM GMT
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A Catholic priest and three laypeople were beaten in two related incidents involving construction work on Church land in Shanxi province that the government had confiscated in the 1950s.

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Laywoman Song Zhiying had her right arm fractured after she was beaten at the construction site on Church land in Shanxi province.
The priest suffered blows to his back, and laywomen Li Meiyu and Song Zhiying had their right arms fractured during the incidents that occurred on June 2 and 3 at the construction site on Erdao Street in Fanzhi. Another layperson suffered minor injuries. The town, the main town in the county of the same name, lies 160 kilometers north of Taiyuan, the provincial capital, which is about 400 kilometers southwest of Beijing. Church sources told UCA News in early July that since the incidents, local Catholics have petitioned religious affairs departments at the county and provincial levels to have the construction stopped and the land returned, but have received no responses. The injured Catholics have mostly recovered but have not received any compensation for their medical treatment, they said. On June 2, Li and a small group of laypeople went to the former Church property to stop the construction of a Buddhist temple there. Some men at the site beat her and threatened the other Catholics with death should they return. On receiving word of the incident, Bishop John Huo Cheng of Fenyang, head of the Shanxi Catholic Patriotic Association, sent three lay leaders to the site the next day to investigate. Church sources said that when the lay leaders, accompanied by a priest serving temporarily in Fanzhi, tried to talk with the management, a gang suddenly hit and kicked the priest, Song and another layperson. They beat the priest´s back as he tried to protect Song, who is in her 70s. Some of the laypeople who visited the site those days later received phone calls threatening that their regular prayer gatherings would be halted if they dared to disrupt the construction work. According to the sources, local religious officials told the Catholics in mid-June it is impossible for the Church to regain the property, because the title deed was lost amid political turmoil in past decades and the Church cannot produce proof of ownership. They also said none of the original buildings on the land resembled a church. Local Catholics have also petitioned the Beijing-based Bishops´ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) to intervene in the matter. ch_taiyuan_shanxi_province_1.gifCCPA vice president Anthony Liu Bainian told UCA News July 8 that Church authorities have demanded the local government handle the issue according to the law, and that the prime concern is not to magnify the conflict. However, since the BCCCC and CCPA have not sent officials to investigate, he said he does not have enough information to comment on the incidents. The disputed 2,000-square-meter plot was once a Catholic venue with 43 houses built in 1916, when Catholicism was introduced to Fanzhi. The buildings, one a priests´ residence, also housed religious activities and catechism classes, and included a stable. The government confiscated them in the 1950s, and a factory was set up in the buildings. In 2005, the county government demolished the buildings without seeking authorization from the Church or providing compensation, as stated in the state´s religious regulations. Since then, the Church has demanded a settlement from the government, but in vain. In early 2007, the Buddhist community in Fanzhi purchased the land from the government to expand its temple, located next to the former Catholic houses. The construction stopped for a while after local Catholics complained. Although the government agreed that the temple project would not resume before the dispute was settled, construction work later continued and the Church-built wall around the property was demolished, local Catholics said. Only about 25 elderly members of the Catholic community in the county, which numbers around 80, regularly attend Sunday prayer gatherings at a lay leader´s home. Without a proper religious venue, there have been no new baptisms in years. According to Church sources, before the founding of the People´s Republic of China in 1949, the county had about 3,000 laypeople living in Fanzhi town and nearby Catholic villages. Xinzhou diocese, which currently has no bishop, covers the area. END

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