08/04/2014, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Wenzhou bishop and priests slam government's campaign against crosses and churches in Zhejiang

by Eugenia Zhang
For Mgr Vincent Zhu Weifang, from the official Church, the campaign of destruction is increasing social instability. It is real persecution against the Christian faith. The bishop apologises for failing to intervene sooner. He was hoping that the campaign would end quickly. Catholics and Protestants suffer injuries as they attempt to defend their sacred buildings. For priests in Wenzhou, the campaign is unfair and touches buildings that have all the right papers. Such "stupid acts" by the government are undermining social harmony.

Wenzhou (AsiaNews) - Bishop Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou (Zhejiang) and his priests in the open Church side have openly denounced the Zhejiang government's brutal acts of forced demolitions of churches and stripping off crosses from Catholic and Protestant churches in the province.

Bishop Zhu, who has papal mandate and works openly, issued a pastoral letter on July 30 calling his faithful "not to fear but have faith". On the following day, July 31, his priests urged the Zhejiang provincial government to stop the campaign of forcibly knocking knock down crosses on church roofs.

The wave of destructions of churches and crosses in Zhejiang province, especially against Christian Churches in Wenzhou, has been going on for months. Protestants and Catholics were injured while fending off police to tear down churches and crosses.

After Bishop Zhu issued the pastoral letter, local Catholics were dissatisfied with Bishop Zhu, 87, for reacting slowly on this matter.

Bishop Zhu, in his pastoral letter, admitted that "he was not in time to console, encourage and strengthen their faith", felt sorry and asked his priests and faithful for forgiveness.

He said the campaign surprised him and made him feel perplexed. He said he was quiet because he thought the campaign would soon be over. This policy of demolition of churches was "wrong and unjust" because even "buildings without violations" were destroyed. He noted that the policy "targets crosses on church-roofs, a sign of Christian faith." This intensified the tension between the Church and the government and caused bloodsheds, he noted. This upsets the religion-state harmony and arouses social instability. The campaign seems to be intensified, he noted.

Bishop Zhu urged his flock to pray for the plight of the diocese, by offering a rosary each day and a prayer of the Way of the Cross every Friday. Prayers in groups are encouraged for parishes that suffered severely. "We pray that those who persecute us will change," he said.

In the priests' petition on July 31, they strongly urged the Zhejiang government to stop the demolition campaign. They admitted some churches exceeded their approved limits, but insisted the construction procedures were in accord with the law. They questioned which law or regulation states that it is illegal to put up a cross on the church roof; which regulation states that only one cross on one church is allowed in an designated area.

Since the construction costs of churches came from donations by the local Catholics, the faithful have lost confidence in the government, the petition said.

The Wenzhou priests strongly urged the Zhejiang government to "respect the Catholic Church, respect our sacred and inviolable crosses, and respect Catholics' religious sentiments."

They also asked the authorities to stop the whole campaign of demolitions of churches and crosses. "Do not destroy democracy, harmony and social stability. Do not let your stupid acts be teased in history," they warned.

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