Two days before Christmas, members of a rural Christian congregation in eastern China welded pieces of metal into a cross and hoisted it onto the top of a worship hall to replace one that was forcibly removed in October.
Within an hour, township officials and uniformed men barged onto the church ground and tore down the cross.
“They keep a very close watch on us, and there is nothing we can do,” a church official told The Associated Press on Tuesday on condition of anonymity because of fear of government retaliation. “The situation is not good, as any attempt to re-erect the cross will be stopped.”
That means that the worshippers in Wenzhou city, like many Christians in the eastern province of Zhejiang, will worship this Christmas under a roof without a cross. Provincial authorities have toppled crosses from more than 400 churches, and even razed some worship halls in a province-wide crackdown on building code violations.
Many Christians say their faith has been singled out because authorities, wary of its rapid growth, are seeking to curb its spread in a campaign that has targeted China’s most thriving Christian communities.
Estimates for the number of Christians in China range from the conservative official figure of 23 million to as many as 100 million by independent scholars, raising the possibility that Christians may rival in size the 85 million members of the ruling Communist Party.
In August, Beijing rounded up Christian pastors and religious scholars in a national seminar with the edict that the Christian faith must be free of foreign influence but “adapt to China,” a euphemism for obeying the Communist Party’s rule.
By DIDI TANG – Associated Press –