02/25/2016, 15.39
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Jubilee in China, amid cross removals and profiled priests

With the end of the festivities associated with Chinese New Year, the authorities start removing crosses again. At dawn today, the cross at the Zhuangyuan Catholic Church, in Wenzhou, was taken down. Since late 2013, some 1,700 crosses have been removed in Zhejiang province. By the end of the year, the authorities will require Catholic and Taoist priests to be certified to perform their religious duties.

Wenzhou (AsiaNews) – Government officials removed the cross from the Zhuangyuan Catholic Church in Yongqiang Parish, in Wenzhou, just before dawn this morning. Local Catholics had not been informed of the decision and so could not prevent the removal of the sacred symbol.

Since late 2013, at least 1,700 crosses have been removed in the southern province of Zhejiang as part of the ‘three rectifications and one demolition" campaign.

"The Chinese New Year ended on Feb. 22. So everyone is back at work, including the religious officials and demolition workers," UCANews reported citing a Catholic group on Wechat.

Authorities also appeared to have targeted another Catholic church in Yongqiang parish, the Bajia Church, following reports that local authorities ordered electricity and water to be cut off to the building. In Zhejiang, Catholics number 210,000.

The local Church is experiencing the Holy Year of Mercy through many charitable works, which have always been a hallmark of Chinese Catholics.

In the country’s various dioceses, individual communities have boosted their spiritual work with more pilgrimages, greater participation in the Mass and prayer meetings.

Various local churches have also come up with a long list of activities to perform the works of mercy recommended by the pope, like visiting the sick, the elderly, the disabled, and orphanages.

Churches in almost all major cities of the country have opened their Holy Door and the authorities have not disrupted religious celebrations, including in dioceses whose bishops are not recognised by the government. Yet, cross removals and now priest certification contradict such positive steps.

At present, the Chinese government plans to set up a global database for clergy and people religious. The first phase involved Buddhist monks, especially those who belong to Tibet’s Yellow hat sect.

In Tibet, local authorities have in fact already posted online information about monks that it has certified as “authentic”, urging people to disregard those without a proper certificate.

Initially, this was justified by the need to stop scams by phoney monks at the expense of Buddhist believers. However, now that the plan is set to apply to Catholic and Taoist priests, it begins to look a lot like government profiling.

Resembling a passport, the certificate includes a person’s religious name, secular name, national ID card number and a unique number assigned to every member of the clergy or religious orders.

Monks from East China's Zhejiang Province even have a code on their certificate, which can help prove the document is genuine.

The campaign, which started with Buddhist monks, now applies to Taoist and Catholic priests and members of religious orders, who have to apply for certificates by the end of this year, China Central Television reported. Eventually, Muslim and Protestant clergymen will be included, as China recognises only five official religions.

In addition, all religious groups in the country will be required to apply for a National Organisation Code Certificate and open a bank account at a state-controlled institution. This will serve as proof of their authenticity.

At the same time, this will give the authorities the means to monitor the money religious groups receive and identify foreign funds that might lead to some kind of revolution.

The State Administration for Religious Affairs will be responsible for issuing religious staff certificates, which the various religious patriotic associations will verify.

Effectively, this will force Catholic priests to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which Pope Benedict deemed “incompatible with Catholic doctrine” in his letter to the Chinese Church and still in force according to Pope Francis.

According to official statements, such changes aim to better "serve and manage" religious organisations, eradicate religious fraud and protect believers' rights.

However, clergy and members of religious orders without a certificate will be barred from engaging in religious activities, this according to the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

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