China Blows Up Hundreds of Illegal 'Churches'

Many Catholic Sites Forced to Close

WENZHOU, China, DEC. 13, 2000 ( Authorities in this east coast city have torn down or blown up more than 200 illegal churches and temples. A further 239 small places of worship, many of them linked to the underground Catholic Church, have been forced to close, The Telegraph newspaper reported today.

China's millions of underground Christians, especially those who have defied Beijing to remain loyal to the Pope, face a bleak Christmas, as a long-running campaign against illegal worship of all varieties coincides with a crisis in China's relations with the wider Christian world, the London newspaper said.

Joseph Kung, head of the American-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, which monitors the underground Catholic Church in China, said: "In the past week, I have received several reports from China that bishops and priests have been detained by police, and I am now trying to authenticate them. Probably this is the beginning of the crackdown for the Christmas season."

The underground churches demolished were not established church buildings, Kung told the newspaper, but were often private homes where Christians unwilling to worship in "official" churches gathered for prayers and secret services.

This autumn, China reacted with fury to John Paul II's decision to canonize 120 Catholic martyrs on Oct. 1, China's National Day. Most of the martyrs were killed in 1900 by the Boxers, fanatical xenophobes whom Beijing calls patriotic heroes. China called the new saints a collection of notorious criminals and rapists, The Telegraph noted.

Christianity, especially Catholicism, has traditionally been regarded as a foreign, "imperialist" import. Frank Lu, director of the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, said Tuesday night that the latest campaign against religion in Wenzhou, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, had begun in August, and intensified in recent weeks. Vatican Radio reported today that over the past year, 1,200 religious buildings have been shut down or destroyed in the province.

"Wenzhou is an important center of Chinese Catholicism," he told The Telegraph. Wenzhou, a chaotic boomtown of shoe factories, sweatshops and dealers in pirate goods, has a long history of Christianity because of its trading links with the outside world. Last year, Wenzhou police arrested three leading members of the underground Roman Catholic Church. Those detained included an 81-year-old bishop, Lin Xili.

The places of worship closed and demolished in Wenzhou were reported to include Buddhist and Taoist temples as well as Catholic and Protestant churches.

Religious worship, though protected by the constitution, must be "patriotic," and can only take place in establishments under the control of the atheist Communist Party. A spokesman for the Wenzhou foreign affairs office said: "To maintain social stability, the local government demolished underground churches and temples and other illegal places. They were operating under the cloak of religion. They hoodwinked people, interfered in normal religious activities."

There are 12 million registered Christians in China. Missionary organizations put the true total at nearly five times that.

13. desember 2000

av Webmaster publisert 14.12.2000, sist endret 14.12.2000 - 12:32