Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The removal of crosses in China's Zhejiang province is an insult to the faith and a violation of religious freedom, which in China is becoming increasingly restricted, said retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong during a Mass celebrated at St Andrew’s Catholic Church last Friday.
The Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace organised the celebration, which included prayers and fasting, after Card John Tong recently issued an urgent appeal.
More than 700 people attended the liturgy, concelebrated by Hong Kong’s Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong and five other foreign missionaries, including PIME regional superior Fr Giorgio Pasini.
The church was overflowing with people with about a third made up of parishioners from St Andrew’s Catholic Church, which is located in a heavily populated area of the city.
Card Zen compared what is now happening in Zhejiang and other areas of China to the early years of China’s Communist regime and to period of the Cultural Revolution.
During periods of persecution, Chinese Christians, bishops and priests were asked to step on the cross, to show contempt for the faith and engage in apostasy, he said. What is taking place today in Zhejiang is the same.
“The cross is a symbol of faith,” said the 83-year-old cardinal. “The authorities removing the crosses are insulting our faith [and] violating our rights that are guaranteed by the constitution”. For him, this is not just an isolated situation but part of a broader, nation-wide strategy.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong agrees. “I initially thought the campaign was a local government's decision. But since it has been ongoing for some time, I have come to believe it is a state policy, which is very terrible and is a serious regression” in terms of “religious policy,” he said.
Over the past week, Hong Kong saw rallies, petitions, Masses, and other liturgical services by Catholics and Protestants against the destruction of crosses and religious buildings.
"It is time to speak out because sooner or later this policy could affect even our territory,” a Hong Kong resident told AsiaNews.
Still, the anti-cross campaign is not letting up. So far, at least 1,200 crosses and religious buildings have been dismantled or partially demolished.
The authorities in Zhejiang's Wenling City issued an order for 15 "illegal" churches be vacated or demolished by 1 September, the state-run Global Times reports.
For many Chinese Catholics and Protestants, the real aim behind tearing down even legally authorised buildings is to reduce the impact and influence of Christian communities in Chinese society.