12/02/2005, 00.00
CHINA
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Xian Catholics fear retaliations after nuns were attacked

The Religious Affairs Bureau sends its agents to investigate who leaked the information. Local authorities insist the diocese must buy back school confiscated in 1952.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Catholics in the city of Xian fear retaliations after news agencies reported that some nuns were attacked and some members of a local congregation staged a demonstration last week (see photo) demanding the diocese's school sold by the government to a real estate developer be returned.

Some priests spoke to AsiaNews and expressed their fears of what might happen next. Agents from the Religious Affairs Bureau in fact have been sent to investigate who took part in the protests, who led it, who took the pictures and who released them. Some photos reached AsiaNews.

As a result of the media coverage, some Catholic websites have been blacked-out since yesterday and news about the attack against the nuns has been removed.

This said, the more important issue remains the authorities' willingness to sell land the Church owned back in 1952.

On November 23, a group of 40 thugs armed with wooden sticks attacked 16 nuns involved in a sit-in against plans to tear down the Diocesan School of the Rosary.

The Xian city government had taken over the school in 1952 and left it vacant a few years ago. Recently, city authorities sold it to a developer in violation of Chinese law instead of returning it to its rightful owners.

Following last Sunday's rally of some 600 people, Xian City authorities tried to placate the protesters by offering to sell the land to the Church for 6.5 million yuan (about € 650,000 or US$ 800,000). The property in question is located near a convent of Franciscan nuns and the Cathedral. Mgr Dang Minyan, auxiliary bishop of Xian, agreed to discuss the issue, but many faithful and priests see the transaction as legalised theft.

In the 1980s, the Chinese government adopted a law whereby all confiscated church property should be returned to its rightful owners. However, many convents, schools and hospitals have not yet been returned to the Church. Some are still used by the Communist Party; others have been sold by local party bosses for a profit.

Some local sources said that local authorities are concerned that the nuns' protests and diocese's demands could set a precedence for other communities who might try to get the authorities to uphold the law the government itself had adopted.

Last year, China's constitution was amended to recognise the right to private property.

Some sources in Xian said that the bishop will only accept to pay a symbolic price for the land.

Xian's Religious Affairs Bureau has instead backed the developer, "who's already spent a million yuan" for the land.

Cities are currently in a real estate frenzy as they try to upgrade their downtown areas ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.

As part of this process, the government has granted developers the right to seize land and expel residents and rightful owners.

In the meantime, Xian City authorities have promised to pay the five nuns still hospitalised as result of the attack 3,000 yuan (€ 320 or US$ 370) as compensation, but some faithful reacted by point out that the sum "does not even cover medical fees they have to pay".

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