» 04/07/2014, 00.00
Wenzhou, Christians challenge government to prevent the demolition of their church
For days, about 3 thousand faithful of the official Protestant Ou Bei community have held a sit-in in front of the newly rebuilt place of worship Sanjiang , which the authorities want to demolish for "security reasons". Government’s decision hides attempt to target congregation of thousands which meets every Sunday and their church which is considered "too high".
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.
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
(John Ai collaborated)
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Scheduled for today a silent demonstration outside the offices of the Government of Pingyang County: leaders of all 135 Christian churches of Pingyang (all members of the officially sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement) had confirmed their presence at the event. The authorities have "warned" of the problems that may arise. A Christian leader: "We will take the cross down from the top of our church when the Communist Party takes down its party flag."
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