01/02/2006, 00.00
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Priests return to Shanxi; government promises to defend Church's property rights

Priests who had been beaten received the key to the occupied building as a sign of the government's good faith in resolving the issue.

Taiyuan (AsiaNews/UCAN) – The government of Tianjin has promised to recognise the Church's property rights to some buildings in the city. In recent weeks, a group of priests, sisters and lay people of the dioceses of Taiyuan and Yuci occupied one such building and were subjected to violent beatings by thugs who wanted to turn them out.

Fr Antonio Han Huide, procurator of Taiyuan diocese, said Tianjin's deputy mayor had verified the authenticity of the priests' claims and promised to resolve the dispute by following central government directives on religious policy. As a sign of good faith, the deputy mayor handed over to the priests the key to a building in Jinbu street, near the Tianjin train station. He invited the priests to use it anytime they went to the city, but he also asked them to end their occupation and to return to Shanxi, while the government drew up the documents for the transfer of property.

However, the community of believers of Taiyuan and Yuci fears that even these new promises may vanish into thin air. In recent years, two petitions sent by the dioceses to reclaim their property rights went unheeded. In the first decades of the twentieth century, several dioceses had property in Tianjin city. The income from rent served to finance their poorest missions. With the advent to power of Mao, all properties were confiscated. With the new opening up of Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese government enacted rules for the restoration of property to its rightful owners.

This never happened in Tianjin and church property was sold, restored and rented by the local government, which pocketed all the proceeds.

On 15 December, a group of 50 priests, sisters and lay people of Taiyuan and Yuci demonstrated outside the Tianjin town hall, calling for an official response. On 16 December, around 30 thugs beat some priests with iron rods, bricks and sticks. The police arrived late on the scene and allowed the thugs to escape. Instead of tending to the injured priests, they took them to the police station for interrogation. The priests then decided to occupy one of the contested buildings until the Tianjin government gave a clear response.

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See also
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Priests and nuns continue the occupation of a government-seized building in Tianjin
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