Wenzhou (AsiaNews ) - Thousands of Christians in the eastern province of Zhejiang have been engaged in a peaceful sit-in for days in front of the church of Sanjiang, in the town of Ou Bei (near Wenzhou), so that the building will not be demolished by the authorities. The Protestant congregation that built the church is part of the Three-Self Movement, and is therefore recognized by the government, which also approved the construction of a place of worship.
The protest began on March 25, 2014, when the authorities defined the church as "illegal" because they claimed it violated the building code. On April 3, the local authorities sent a formal notice to the Protestant congregation to warn of the demolition "within 15 days", since the structure "presents security risks". The same day the government sent thousands of police officers to "convince" the Christians to leave the building and keep them at bay during the demolition. Since then, about 3 thousand people have peacefully occupied the church, in shifts, inside and outside to prevent the bulldozers from going ahead with the demolition.
Two days ago (Saturday, April 5), the Protestant pastors led a march that ended in front of the building, a prayer vigil was held that lasted all night. One of the faithful explains: ""We are not seeking a violent confrontation.We are holding a peaceful sit-in, praying to God for help". But "chai" ideograms have appeared on the walls of the building, which indicate a "place to be demolished".
According to the faithful and pastors of Sanjiang the decision to demolish the church hide two specific political motivations: on the one hand, there is controversy over the cross (red) positioned on the roof and which the Communist provincial secretary of Xia Baolong claims is "too high" after a visit to the area. The other is the fact that the entire structure is more than 1000 square meters and is therefore one of the largest buildings in the area. The real intention of the government would be to weaken the Christian presence in Wenzhou, once described as "the Jerusalem of the East" because of the large number of Christians and still one of the cornerstones of faith in China.
Timothy Liao, one of the
local pastors says: "They said the holy cross was built too high and
violated the building code. But why only target churches when many
buildings violate height limits? Clearly, this is a pretext to tear down churches". Before the new
building was erected about 1,800 faithful met in the church every Sunday now,
thanks to its expansion, its capacity has increased to 4,000.
The Three-Self Movement of Protestant Churches is an umbrella group for all of the "official" communities and was created by Mao Zedong in the early years of his government. Only officially registered religious groups are permitted in China. But there are more unofficial Protestant Christians (about 80 million) than members of the movement (about 20 million). Fearing that they could loose control of the situation, for almost five years the Party has waged a campaign to eliminate the underground communities or merge them into the official community. The case of Sanjiang shows that this campaign has widened to structures close to the government.
(John Ai collaborated)