Elderly bishop protests outside government building, Protestants vow more symbols
Lithuania has its Hill of Crosses. China now may have a City of Crosses.
As authorities in Wenzhou, a city of 3 million people in Eastern China’s Zhejiang province, continue to remove "unauthorized" crosses from local churches, an 89-year-old bishop was joined by 20 priests in a protest outside government offices.
The coastal city, home to one of China’s largest Christian congregations with an estimated 300,000 Catholics and a million Protestants split between government-sanctioned and underground “house” churches, is known as the “Jerusalem of the East.”
Activists say the “evil” campaign to remove the crosses is a coordinated Communist party attack on their faith, according to the Guardian. They say more than 1,200 crosses have been stripped from churches in Zhejiang province since the government initiative began in late 2013. There has been a spike in such actions in recent weeks.
The appearance of Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, who walks with a cane, leading the July 24 protest inspired many local Catholics, sources told ucanews.com.
“They were moved to see the bishop leading the struggle to retain the symbol of their faith,” a source said.
Several police officers appeared at the scene for the two-hour protest but did not take action, according to eyewitnesses.
Prior to the July 24 protest, eight clergy from Zhejiang sought help from Church officials in Beijing to lobby the government to stop the cross removal campaign, a source told UCAN:
Bishop Zhu issued an open letter last August, calling on Catholics to defend their rights and dignity in the face of the cross-removal campaign. Unlike their Protestant counterparts, today was the first time the Catholic Church took the cause to the streets.
Zhejiang has a Catholic population of 210,000 with Wenzhou diocese being the largest. Wenzhou is also a stronghold of the “unofficial” Church community with about 120,000 members.
Meanwhile, the unofficial Catholic community in Yongqiang area called on all parishes to pray and fast as a nonviolent protest for their right to celebrate their faith.
Protestant preachers are encouraging their congregations to peacefully oppose the removals by placing homemade wooden crosses in their homes or on their cars, the Guardian said.
“Each time they take a cross down, we will put more up,” a Zhejiang church leader said. “We are even considering making flags and clothes with cross patterns. We will make the cross flourish throughout China.”
The controversy may be getting an international hearing, with both President Obama’s trip to China coming up and the 2016 presidential election cycle getting underway. Says the Guardian:
Following a congressional hearing last week, Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate, said: “Without question, religious freedom is under assault in China.”
However, such repression “arguably had the unintended consequence of infusing many of these religious adherents with greater vibrancy as evidenced most dramatically by the explosive growth of Christianity in China,” Rubio added.