In March 2013, Zhejiang provincial government launched a three-year (2013–2015) campaign to address “illegal structures.” As part of this campaign, Zhejiang authorities targeted Christian church buildings throughout the province, removing crosses from churches. Since late 2013, some 1,700 crosses have been removed in Zhejiang province and yesterday the cross at the Zhuangyuan Catholic Church in Yongqiang parish was taken down. At least 18 Protestant church crosses have been removed in Zhejiang so far.
This is the first time a cross in the Catholic church has been taken down in Zhejiang province.
A source in Taizhou told UCA News authorities said the crosses were removed in order to “sinicize” the churches.
“When we asked the officials what they meant by ‘sinicize’ the churches, they said they did not know either but they have to remove the crosses anyway,” the source added.
Government authorities removed the cross of Zhuangyuan Church in Yongqiang parish, two weeks after Zhejiang’s religious affairs director called for “religious stability” ahead of the G20 summit due to take place in September..
UCA News.com reported that the previous evening, the parish priest in Yongqiang parish called for an emergency meeting amid warnings that the cross was about to be taken down.
In Zhejiang, Catholics number around 210,000.
According to the Guardian, one church activist told them that he thinks the cross removal in churches is an organized and planned persecution of Christianity.
“It has been more than one year since they started the campaign and the situation is getting worse and worse. I really can’t understand the mentality behind this campaign. It is not in accordance with the law and it is violent yet they ignore our reactions and appeals,” he said.
One former Catholic journalist in Zhejiang whose Christian name is Clare said, “Authorities have lost the hearts of the people after the cross-removal campaign.”
In an effort to maintain stability and address the growing number of protests among the millions of Christians who live in Zhejiang province, authorities have ordered that no cross should be taken down in Hangzhou before the G-20.
“Even if there are cross removals, they (authorities) said they would seek approval from the diocese first,” said a priest in Hangzhou who asked not to be named. “But I am not certain authorities will really stop removing crosses, as policy often changes.”