Beijing (AsiaNews) - In one single day, the authorities in three different Chinese provinces had two Catholic churches torn down and the cross in a third one removed.
Local clergy complain that demolition was carried out without the consent of the community or in violation of local bylaws.
This was done because the places of worship stood on land officials wanted for commercial development. In one case, a priest who tried to block a demolition was handcuffed and led away by police.
On Monday, Jinxi Catholic Church in Hunan province was torn down. The same occurred to the Church of Our Lady in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi right after midnight. In Jingtou, Zhejiang province, the cross of the local church was removed. Reports about these actions have gone viral on Chinese Catholic websites.
In one report, signed by "Catholic Church of the city," parish priest Fr Dong Guohua was tricked by Religious Affairs officials into leaving his church in Jingdezhen last Sunday evening in order to discuss reconstruction work.
After dining with five officials, Fr Dong stayed overnight in a room they had reserved for him. At midnight, he received a call from his neighbour that the Church of Our Lady had been torn down (pictured).
The other report was by the "door guard of the Church". He said he was abducted Sunday night, forced into a vehicle, and told that he would be safe if he cooperated and freed when the time came. The vehicle drove around the city all night and dropped him off on Monday morning. When he returned to the church site, he found that the church had been levelled.
Some religious articles and furniture had been removed before the demolition but "the tabernacle was damaged by the bulldozer and buried among the debris," the report stated.
Speaking to UCANews, Changsha Bishop Methodius Qu Ailin confirmed that the church in Jinxi was demolished. The authorities said they needed the land for a development project and promised to build a new church in the same township ahead of the demolition.
"Though the new one is now built, we haven't renovated the rectory and the worshipping area is still not ready for use," the prelate said. "The priest is now staying in a hostel but we still haven't received a temporary worshipping place as promised."
For several months now, a campaign has been underway in China, centred in Zhejiang province, with churches as the main target. Since it began about a hundred churches have been torn down or had their cross removed.
Local authorities claim that the places of worship violate building rules. However, construction plans for the buildings in question were approved by the appropriate agencies.
The campaign started after Xia Baolong, Zhejiang party secretary, made an inspection earlier this year in Baiquan and noticed a church whose cross was "too obviously" visible, offensively so.
Seeing a forest of crosses distorting the skyline in other cities, he gave the order to "rectify" the situation. Since then, the Communist Party has been tearing down crosses, statues and churches.
Mgr Vincent Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou (Zhejiang) and his priests of the official Church slammed local officials for this campaign.
In a pastoral letter released on 30 July, the prelate stressed that such actions "are increasing social instability. It is real persecution against the Christian faith."