Catholics protest after demolition of Shaanxi church
Nearly 100 Catholics gathered in front of the local government office in Shaanxi province to protest against the destruction of their church in Zhifang village. Protesters shouted “Give back my church” and “Freedom of belief.”
Without consultation with the parish, the local government had posted a notice on 20 Dec 2017 saying that the church was occupying the land illegally and it would be demolished on 27 Dec. Authorities went ahead with the demolition of the church in the Lauyu district of Xian city a week later. During the demolition, a cross was destroyed and sacred items were removed. People were strictly forbidden from going near the church.
On the same day, Bishop Wu Qinjing of Zhouzhi issued a statement asking local officials to come to the diocese to apologise. The diocese has now set up a special team to resolve the incident with the government.
Local authorities claimed the church building was occupying land illegally. However, local Catholics used social media to show photos of the demolition and attached official documents that approved the church for worship. One document also showed that local officials had given the church permission to use the land for building. The church was built in 1999 after all approvals were completed as a place for local Catholics to worship.
A parishioner said on WeChat that a highway had been built near the church and the government intended to develop the area into a scenic spot. “Therefore, the church’s land became highly beneficial and was it rapidly demolished under the pretext of economic development.”
A local source said that negotiations were continuing and predicted the government would provide compensation for the loss of the church. He also pointed out that the church could not be rebuilt on the same spot because the government claimed the church would be at risk of a landslide from a nearby slope. He believed the authorities would need to provide land for rebuilding the church because of a large number of Catholics in the area. “If they compensate only with money, the parish and Catholics will not agree,” he said.