Vigil continues around the Changzhi church at risk of expropriation and demolition (video)

The bishop, Msgr. Ding denounces the local government's turnaround and yesterday's beatings. Thugs, police and soldiers attack faithful. "Kill the priests first!" Several Catholics' cars have been destroyed. The sad connection with China-Vatican dialogue. The betrayal of Xi Jinping's words.

Changzhi (AsiaNews) - The tension around the Wangcun Church (Changzhi), which is at risk of land reclamation and demolition, has intensified after yesterday's clashes and the blockade (temporary) of the bulldozers.

Throughout the night, hundreds of faithful in the diocese remained in the open air in vigil, praying and chanting the rosary to prevent a night-time intervention. There were also five or six priests with the faithful. The others who had participated in the sit-in yesterday - some of them were injured - were accommodated in the diocesan center in the city. Many of them have distant parishes and have decided to remain at Changzhi to demand respect for their rights.

In his homily during Mass this morning the Bishop of Changzhi, Msgr. Peter Ding Lingbin, called for justice and denounced the local government's u-turn,. 10 years ago authorities had returned the church and the land around it to the diocese. Now wants it to transform it into a public "square." He also recalled the violence that some priests and faithful were victims of yesterday.

The issue of the Wangcun Church, a nearly 100-year-old monument, and surrounding land has lasted for a long time. The sacred building and the land were seized under Mao. According to a law approved by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, they it was supposed to have been returned to the legitimate owners. But nothing was done until 2012, when the local government signed a document for the return of properties.

A few months ago, the same government, ruled that lands around the church would be required to build a square (see photo 2). In this way - the faithful explain - the church will have no room for developing activities and there is a risk that sooner or later the sacred building will be demolished and destroyed.

Yesterday the local government wanted to begin demolition, destroying the wall around the church. For this reason several bulldozers had moved in. The workers were accompanied by party officials, thugs, police and soldiers, almost 400 people.

There were also a thousand faithful in the place [local media said they were just "a dozen"] and dozens of priests wearing their alb and stole.

At the order of the authorities the thugs began to beat the faithful and the priests (see video). Some thugs shouted, "Kill the priests first!" The beating continued for hours and the mob destroyed several cars of the faithful. Meanwhile, to prevent other Catholics from reaching the site, all access routes to the area were blocked.

"Some of the criminals and some of the bleeding faithful - says one of the witnesses - are still in the police stations."

During the clashes, Msgr. Ding was in frantic talks with the Party Committee and local government authorities asking them to stop the violence and resolve the issue. For the bishop the issue is not only economic, but religious repression and discrimination against Catholics and a human rights abuse. He also asked the authorities to compensate priests and faithful who were victims of the beatings, to repay the value of broken cars, to punish the perpetrators of the violence.

One priest comments: "This episode of repression and discrimination occurs just as China and the Vatican say that they are talking!"

Another stresses that what is happening is a betrayal of the words of President Xi Jinping, who sees religions as a tool for building the nation: "If the people have faith, the nation has hope, the country has strength."

According to some, the new urban design hides a project to use the land for construction. The area is only a few miles from Changzhi Airport and if it was put on sale, it would sell for hundreds of millions of yuan.

For the Church it is about defending the spaces to create charitable and evangelizing activities.

"The bulldozers have been stopped - says a priest - but they are still on the site. And for now there is only the word of the village leader who stopped the demolition. But there is no word from the highest authorities."