Rome (AsiaNews) – “Help us save a Church building!” that’s the anguished appeal from Beijing which greets the staff of AsiaNews , demanding that the rights of Beijing Archdiocese be respected and that an end be put to the “wild sacking of Church property, which is going on as the National Congress discusses a new law to protect private property”.
The building in the sights of prospectors, who are attempting to sack it and illegally expropriate it from the Church, is found at no. 81 of Chao Wai Da Jie, in the historic and commercial centre of the metropolis. The quarter is known as “the golden zone”, because it lies along the link road of the “second ring (er huan)” which encloses the historic centre of the capital, where buildings cost at least 1400 euros per squared metre.
The well known structure in question consists of two western style villas built around the beginning of the last century. They originally belonged to a wealthy French Catholic lady, who on leaving China donated them to Beijing Archdiocese.
As in the case of all ecclesial properties, during the Cultural Revolution the building was requisitioned by the government, but later returned to the Church under Deng Xiaoping.
However its unique beauty has long attracted the greedy attention of unscrupulous bureaucrats. Ten years ago a group of Party members occupied it with the intention of requisitioning it. But priests and seminarians from the Archdiocese staged a sit-in around the two villas which lasted for days, with a chorus of song and recitations of the rosary in public in order to provoke State intervention.
Then the ranger of its sacking was avoided, but this most recent appeal warns that “just as ten years ago, history is repeating itself” because a group is seeking to force the signing of its “cessation” to the diocesan administration. The Catholic Community points it’s finger at a certain women, who is “very close” to the patriotic bishop of Beijing, Chen Maoju, who in order to become sole owner is threatening those in charge with serious repercussions and even sequesters.
Chen Maoju is infamous in Beijing and is nicknamed “the fat mandarin” (pang juzi), because taking advantage of the lung period of illness of Msgr. Fu she bought and sold Archdiocese property – no one knows with whose permission – so much so that the Catholics accuse her of having transformed the Church into “Ms Fu’s Company”.
Expropriations and requisitions are the order of the day in the Chinese Church.
In November 2005, 16 nuns were attacked by a group of “thugs” in Xian, for having defended dioceses and school which the local government had already sold to businessmen. In December of the same year, a similar incident occurred in Tianjin: 50 priests from the diocese of Yuci and Taiyuan were beaten with sticks for having defended a building that was the property of the two diocese which the Office of Religious Affairs was desirous of selling, pocketing the profits. These properties are vital to the Church to fund its missionary work in poorer rural areas.
According to Chinese law, following the sequester which took place during the Cultural Revolution, church buildings, schools, hospitals, universities, libraries should be returned to the Catholic Church.
The regulations for Religious Affairs issued on March 1st 2005, reaffirm this principal. Number 30 states: “Law protects lands used in a legitimate way by religious communities and their places of worship; it protects the ownership and legitimate use of houses, buildings, structures and of all property and its earnings. No individual or organisation can take possession of, obstacle, illegally divide, damage, apply seals, sequester, freeze assets of, expropriate, offend the legitimate property of the religious community or their places of worship; archaeological artefacts pertaining to them, or objects of worship for the religious community cannot be damaged”.
However, upon till now the Churches “watchdogs” - The Patriotic Associations and Office for Religious Affairs– continue to deed the property in their own name, selling them, or transforming them into luxury hotels and pocketing all profits. According to data from Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, profits illegally earned from requisitioned Church properties amounts to 130 billion Yuan (circa 13 billion Euros).