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Chinese authorities target first Catholic church in cross-removal campaign

A Chinese Catholic kisses a crucifix during a pilgrimage in Baoji, China (CNS photo/Wu Hong, EPA)

Chinese authorities have widened their campaign of cross removal in the Zhejiang province by targeting a Catholic Church for the first time, just before dawn yesterday.

Government officials removed the cross of Zhuangyuan Church in Yongqiang parish, two weeks after Zhejiang’s religious affairs director called for “religious stability” ahead of the G20 summit which is due to take place in September.. reported that the previous evening, the Catholic community in Yongqiang parish called an emergency meeting amid warnings that the cross was about to be removed. They were unable to stop state officials despite resisting a similar attempt to remove the cross last year.

“The person in charge of the church did not inform the parish priest about the removal this time, possibly because government officials threatened him to keep quiet,” a church worker told on condition of anonymity. “When the priest realised the situation from others, he called a meeting immediately.”

At least 18 Protestant church crosses have been removed in Zhejiang so far this year. reported that this is the first time authorities have targeted the much smaller Catholic community- an estimated 210,000 people – amid an ongoing campaign in which more than 1,700 crosses have been removed since the end of 2013.

Authorities also appeared to be targeting another Catholic church in Yongqiang parish – Bajia Church – following reports the local government ordered electricity and water to be cut off to the building on February 24.

“The Chinese New Year ended on February 22, so everyone is back at work, including the religious officials and demolition workers,” wrote the Catholic Evangelisation Group on Wechat, a popular social media app in China.

The latest cross removal in Zhejiang follows a provincial Religious Affairs Commission video conference on February 4, during which director Feng Zhili told officials to be prepared to maintain “religious stability” before the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, reported local media.

In an apparent effort to contain simmering discontent among the millions of Christians who live in Zhejiang province, authorities have ordered no more cross removals in Hangzhou before the G-20.

“Even if there are cross removals, they (authorities) said they would seek approval from the diocese first,” said a priest in Hangzhou who asked not to be named. “But I am not certain authorities will really stop removing crosses, as policy often changes.”