Two “underground” Chinese priests were removed from a church in the country’s Gansu province on suspicion of holding a faith-based summer camp for local youths.
Fr. Wang Yiqin and Fr. Li Shidong were serving Maijiqu Ganquan Church in the Tianshui Diocese when they were informed that they would be replaced by officials appointed by the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Catholic Herald reported.
It all began last month, when the local CCPA branch received a letter from the Tianshui Municipal Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee, informing them that the priests were holding a camp for the Bosco Youth Group at the church.
The July 21 letter, which requested that the priests be replaced and sent back to their hometowns, noted that Maijiqu Ganquan Church had become a hub for underground clergy. The committee urged the CCPA to address this problem by appointing individuals “to strengthen the management of religious affairs in accordance with the law and according to the regulations on religious affairs.”
Fr. Zhao Jianzhang, who serves the Tianshui Diocese as deputy director and secretary-general of the Gansu Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic Administration Commission, told ucanews.com that he was made aware of the incident but was out of town at the time the priests were removed.
Maijiqu Ganquan Church is one of only two remaining underground churches in the Tianshui Diocese. It was approved by Yuanbeidao district government when it was built in 1921 but has recently become a target for government regulation and censorship.
“There are people in the government who want to break the current situation,” a source told ucanews.com. “They do not allow the underground church to exist and must convert it to be open because only Tianshui in northwest China still has an underground community.”
The priests’ forced removal is just the latest case in the Chinese government’s longstanding operation to quash religious liberty in the country. Last month, authorities from the ruling Chinese communist party demolished Liangwang Catholic Church, a state-sanctioned megachurch in China’s Shandong province.
CBN News reported that it is not uncommon to see government forces being deployed to tear down churches in the country due to “zoning issues.”
“The disproportionate manpower used to demolish this church goes to show that China is fearful of Christians. The government knew that the demolition in the name of urban zoning would be met with resistance, so it ensured success by taking extreme measures,” International Christian Concern’s Gina Goh said last month. “Despite their best efforts to intimidate the Church with actions like this, the government cannot destroy the faith and resilience of Chinese Christians.”
(H/T: Catholic Herald)