More than 1,200 churches in Zhejiang province have been affected
The removal of crosses in China’s Zhejiang province is an insult to the faith and a violation of the religious rights of Christians, said retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong.
Cardinal Zen, who presided at an Aug. 14 Mass in Hong Kong’s St. Andrew’s Church, denounced the cross-removal program, saying it was "a serious regression of [China’s] religious policy."
“The cross is a symbol of faith. The authorities removing the crosses are insulting our faith [and] violating our rights that are guaranteed by the constitution,” the 83-year-old cardinal, known for his outspokenness and criticism of China’s Communist party, said in his homily.
The Mass, organized by the diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, was attended by about 750 people. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong and five other foreign missionaries concelebrated.
“I initially thought the campaign was a local government’s decision. But since it has been ongoing for some time, I come to believe it is a state policy, which is very terrible and is a serious regression of the religious policy,” he said.
More than 1,200 Christian Churches in Zhejiang have had their crosses forcibly removed in the past 20 months. While the government claims they are simply removing "illegal structures", critics maintain it is a coordinated effort to harass the province’s more than 2 million Christians.
In addition to the cross removals, authorities have attacked Christians in other ways, said Cardinal Zen.
The way China picks and appoints bishops is much more serious than the cross removals because it is "to elect the apostolic successor and the leader of our Church," he said.
Lina Chan, secretary general of the Justice and Peace Commission, questioned the Chinese government’s motives.
“Some people think the recent bishop ordination seems to have eased China-Vatican relations. But there were two excommunicated bishops ordaining new priests in the past months,” she said.
“The Communist Party never changes in its essence on controlling the religions and its lack of trust on religions. The so-called relaxation is just a strategy,” she said.
A day after Cardinal Zen’s comments, authorities in Zhejiang’s Wenling city issued an order for 15 "illegal" churches be vacated or demolished by Sept. 1, according to the state-run Global Times.