As the Chinese government makes progress containing the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities have resumed action to remove crosses from buildings and crackdown on religious practice.
The latest round of enforcement actions have included the removal of crosses from buildings belonging to the state-run churches. According to a report from UCA News, priests say they are cooperating in the removal of exterior crosses in hopes that entire church buildings will not be demolished or converted into a building for secular use.
According to a parishioner in the Chinese province of Anhui named John, Chinese officials cut down the cross from the top of Our Lady of the Rosary Church on April 18. Our Lady of the Rosary belongs to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA, the Catholic Church officially sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party and operating both in communion with Rome and under state control.
The bishops of the CPCA, who were in many cases illicitly consecrated and under official excommunication, were received into full communion with Rome as part of the Vatican’s 2018 provisional agreement with China. The full terms of the China deal were not released to the public but have been reported to include the right of state authorities to propose and veto candidates for the episcopacy in China.
John, speaking to UCA News, explained that on April 13, the leaders of Our Lady of the Rosary--which does not have a member of the clergy assigned to it, and all religious activities are organized by the laity--asked the city authorities about making repairs to the church building. Three days later, the community director of the city requested keys and access to the church, in order to remove its cross.
Concerned parishioners went to Bishop Joseph Liux Xinhong of the Diocese of Anhui, who told them to request more information from the local CPCA office. The local CPCA office said they did not know of any plan to remove the cross from the building.
Xinhong was one of the bishops who had his excommunication lifted and his position recognized by the Vatican following the 2018 provisional deal.
On April 17, the parish community leader said that he had been given “directions from superiors” regarding removing the cross. The following day, said John, the cross was removed by a “team of young people.”
Elsewhere in the province of Anhui, on April 19 a cross was removed from a church in Suzhou City during pre-dawn hours, presumably to avoid the chance of a crowd protesting its removal. A man from the diocese named Paul told UCA News that the removal had previously been scheduled for the afternoon.
Paul said that police officers blocked people from entering the church or taking pictures of the removal, and that a cell phone had been confiscated after it captured a picture of the cross coming down.
In Hefei City, which is also located in the Anhui province, authorities on April 27 took a cross off a building for a Protestant church.
A priest from the Diocese of Anhui, identified only as “Father Chen,” told UCA News that these sorts of activities are “happening all over the mainland” and are not limited to one diocese or province.
“If the churches don’t unite to resist, many more crosses will be removed,” he said.
In September 2017, China enacted strict new regulations concerning religion. Since then, authorities have been vigilant in enforcing permitting requirements. Churches that are not found to be in compliance are destroyed.