07/11/2008, 00.00
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Catholics are beaten, threatened for demanding the return of Church property

The small Catholic community in Fanzhi does not have a church and wants property seized in the 1950s back. However, local authorities have already sold it in violation of the law that requires it be returned to its rightful owners.
Taiyuan (AsiaNews/UCAN) – A priest suffered heavy blows to the back; two women had an arm broken; and another faithful received minor injuries, all because the small Catholic community in Fanzhi (Shanxi), 140 kilometres from the provincial capital of Taiyuan, wants its property back. Warned that it might not be able to meet for religious functions anymore, the community at present has no place of worship and wants the authorities to return property seized in the 1950s.

Under existing regulations, confiscated property must be returned to its rightful owner if it is not used for socially valuable purposes. However, local authorities have sold the disputed land to a local Buddhist community which has already begun expanding its temple, which is located next to the land where former Catholic-owned buildings once stood.

Fanzhi Catholics have called on local and County governments to return the property and put a stop to the ongoing construction, but have not received any reply.

On 2 June a priest and a few members of the community went to the construction site to discuss with those in charge of the project, but were immediately savagely attacked by some men.

Afterwards they began receiving threatening phone calls, telling them that they would lose the right to meet for prayers if construction work was halted.

The disputed property covers a 2,000-square-metre area and included the priest's residence, catechism classes and a stable.

After the government expropriated the property it turned it in to a factory.

In 2005, County authorities shut it down and put everything up for sale without the consent of the property’s former owners (as required by existing regulations).

In early 2007, Fanzhi’s Buddhist community purchased the land.

After starting construction work was eventually halted as a result of complaints by Catholics.

Although the authorities agreed that the temple project would not re-start before the dispute was settled, construction work resumed again.

The government has claimed that the Catholic community has no title deed to show that it owns the property, but members have countered saying that papers have been lost as a result of the expropriation and destruction of past decades.

At present, the Fanzhi community has about 80 members who meet for prayer in the home of one of them. Before 1949 there were about 3,000 Catholics in Fanzhi town and nearby villages.

What is happening in Fanzhi is happening across China. Local governments refuse to follow directives laid down by the central government, which call for the return of confiscated property.

In the last few years nuns in Xian and priests and other nuns in Tianjin have been beaten trying to defend Church property, causing a sensation.

According to Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre, the value of seized Church property is estimated at about US$ 20 billion.

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