Rome (AsiaNews) - The campaign to remove crosses from churches in Zhejiang continues and is spreading to other regions of China, this according to the China Aid Association.
In Zhejiang province alone, 426 crosses were destroyed in November. Another one was destroyed on 19 December in Dingqiao, near Hangzhou. And this is only for Protestant churches. Many Catholic churches have also had their crosses destroyed.
In Dingqiao, more than 100 people, including members of the Religious Affairs Bureau and demolition workers, clashed with members of a local congregation who, in a futile attempt, tried to stop the destruction. Some of the faithful were injured and are still recovering in hospital.
The campaign against crosses and Christian buildings began earlier this year, when Zhejiang party secretary Xia Baolong said that one could see too "too many crosses" in Wenzhou City's skyline.
Local Catholics believe that the real reason behind the campaign is a desire to reduce the impact and influence of Christian communities, both official and underground, on Chinese society because their numbers are rising exponentially through conversions.
Another reason behind the campaign is that provincial authorities last year launched a major development plan for 2020. Under the guise of "beautifying" the province, they are tearing down buildings they have deemed illegal.
The campaign is called 'Three Rectifications and One Demolition", indicating the percentage of buildings that should be torn down to free up land for further real estate development.
In view of this, the provincial government claims that it ordered the demolition of buildings belonging to all communities and various individuals without any discrimination.
However, the campaign has singled out mainly Christian sites, even those built with all necessary permits and already approved by the government.
Over the past few months, the campaign has spread to other provinces, including Shandong, Anhui and Henan.
In Henan, the cross on a church in Nanle was destroyed on 18 December. The place of worship, built with all the duly signed permits, has been at the centre of a tug of war.
Local authorities have seized land owned by the church and its pastor, Rev Zhang Shaojie, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Religious Affairs Bureau also seized 4 million yuan (about US$ 650,000) from a bank account held by the congregation with funds raised among the faithful for the possible new construction of sacred buildings.
In recent months, the official bishop of Wenzhou and the priests of the diocese have also appealed to the government to stop demolitions and the destruction of crosses because they are increasing social instability in China.
The place of worship was built in 1999 with all the permits issued by the authorities. The demolition order was issued on 20 December. The Via Crucis, the tabernacle, the vestments and the chairs were destroyed. Catholics were not allowed to come near. Protests were held in front of the town hall.
The head of the Religious Affairs Bureau defends new regulations on religious activities. Religious discussions on the internet and "illegal" religious meetings represent a “danger”.