11/12/2007, 00.00
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Our Lady of Carmel shrine in Tianjiajing safe for now

Pressures from abroad and from Chinese Catholics delay the destruction of the Catholic shrine, but pilgrimages and liturgy are banned. A former party member who converted to Roman Catholicism urges the party not to behave like the Japanese and the Red Guards. “Stop hurting Christians in their hearts,” he pleads. However, the Communist Party continues to be afraid.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Carmel in Tianjiajing (Henan) will not be destroyed right away, but the area will remain under police control and Christians who are not from the local diocese will be turned away. In the meantime Chinese Catholics continue working on the government in Beijing and are grateful for international pressures.

Our Lady of Mound Carmel lies perched on a mountain top overlooking a breath-taking view in Linxian District (Anyang diocese). Built in 1903-1905 it was seriously damaged by the Japanese during World War Two and the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 people visited the shrine until recently, but in May of this year Henan provincial authorities banned the traditional national annual pilgrimage as well as all other pilgrimages. The city of Anyang also revoked the permits it had granted to the administrators of the shrine and to pilgrimage organisers, calling pilgrimages “illegal religious activities.”

The authorities also issued a ban denying the Church the right to use public areas, requisitioning the shrine’s own compound and threatening to blow up it, shrine and the 14 Stations of the Cross included.

Pressures from local Catholics on local and national authorities have prevented Henan authorities from carrying out their demolition plan. But they have not been able to get the latter to rescind their ban on pilgrimages, especially from other Chinese dioceses. And even though local Catholics can still visit the shrine, they cannot conduct any functions.

The tradition of annual pilgrimages, which had been renewed in 1979 by the efforts of Catholics from Henan, Hebei and Shanxi, is now threatened again.

Fan Xuede, a former party member who converted to Christianity in the 1990s, has come out in defence of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. From his place of exile in the United States he sent an article to AsiaNews on June 21 urging the government to stop the destruction of the shrine.

“Don’t destroy what the Japanese couldn’t turn into ashes! The Red Guards did a lot of damage; don’t make the same mistake! Stop hurting Christians in their hearts,” he said.

Local sources told AsiaNews that the decision by Henan provincial authorities to stop pilgrimages stems from a fear that Christians from various regions might unite and challenge the power of the Communist party.

Catholics in China are just 1 per cent of the total population or about13 million. By contrast members of the Communist Party number more than 73 million.

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