Children gather with parish priests for a photo on the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the village of Fufengxian, in China's Shaanxi province, in late July 2013. The Catholic parish was marking its 17th anniversary in a region known for its apple groves. (CNS photo) (
Children gather with parish priests for a photo on the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the village of Fufengxian, in China’s Shaanxi province, in late July 2013. The Catholic parish was marking its 17th anniversary in a region known for its apple groves. (CNS photo) 

HONG KONG (CNS) — Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang of Wenzhou has written an open letter to Catholics in the diocese, asking them to defend their “rights and dignity” during a campaign by the local government to demolish religious symbols.

The bishop apologized for his “belated letter,” published July 30, about five months after the demolition of the Protestant Sanjiang Church drew international concern. Since then, the government has cracked down on Christianity in this city of more than 3 million people, although the reason why remains unknown, reported the Asian Catholic news portal, ucanews.com.

Bishop Zhu, who has been approved by the Vatican and heads the so-called open Catholic community, said he was “shocked, perplexed and could not understand” the current campaign to demolish religious symbols, despite living through earlier “storms that were more severe and more fierce.”

The 88-year-old bishop served in a “reform-through-labor” camp for 16 years during the Cultural Revolution and again was imprisoned from 1982 to 1988.

“I stayed silent and patient because I believed, as some people said, that this stormy campaign will blow away soon,” but instead it turned into a “wrong and unjust campaign,” he said.

The bishop noted that the initiative began with the demolition of illegal structures but spiraled out of control, leading to legal churches being demolished. He said Christians should “defend our rights and dignity through our conscience, holding firm our belief.”

In response to the demolition campaign, Bishop Zhu called on Catholics to pray the rosary daily, walk the Way of the Cross every Friday, and asked local priests to organize prayer services. The bishop said he believed that frontline parish priests will have “wisdom from God to know how to handle the difficult situation.”

The day after the bishop’s letter was released, a statement was posted on the diocesan website that demanded respect for the Christian faith and its images. The site was closed down the next day, reported ucanews.com.

In April, state officials beat and injured four Catholics as an argument broke out during the forced demolition of a four-story building owned by a lay Catholic in Wenzhou. Authorities claimed the site was an underground religious meeting point and that the top two stories were illegal, according to city regulations. Catholics familiar with the case complained that authorities had no legal right to demolish the entire structure in response.

The South China Morning Post reported Aug. 3 local pastors said that in the last seven months, at least three churches have been demolished and more than 160 crosses, including some at Catholic churches, were taken down because they exceeded the size allowed by local government in Wenzhou.

“Bureaucracy that takes years to process scores of permits for one building would test the patience of a saint,” said the editorial, titled “Both sinners and saints in land row.” “Rules can be bent or broken as people begin building before receiving permits. Indeed, several church leaders in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, say this is why their buildings violate urban planning and land resources regulations. But they insist that their designs are common practice in Wenzhou, known as ‘China’s Jerusalem’ for its many houses of worship.”

—By Catholic News Service. 

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