Chinese authorities demolished two Catholic pilgrimage sites dedicated to the Virgin Mary just weeks after the Vatican signed a deal with the Communist Party over the appointment of bishops.
Reports and videos showing the demolition of the two sanctuaries became public Thursday, according to AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. The shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in Dongergou (Shanxi) was apparently destroyed Thursday, while Our Lady of the Mountain, in Anlong (Guizhou) was destroyed this week.
AsiaNews said that the shrine in Dongergou was torn down in the name of “Sinicization,” because according to government officials, there were “too many crosses” and “too many holy paintings,” making the sanctuary unacceptable to standards set by the Communist party.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has made the “Sinicization” of religion — assimilating it into Chinese socialism and purifying it of foreign influence — a hallmark of his religious policy.
The Sinicization campaign began last February, with the publication of strict new regulations on religious activities. Since then, authorities have destroyed churches, crosses, paintings, and other Christian symbols, beginning in Henan, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia and spreading to Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and other provinces.
The Vatican has been sympathetic to Xi’s policies, despite their obvious anti-Western overtones, going so far as to propose a theological justification for Sinicization.
Last March, Vatican Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States, embraced the concept of Sinicization in his opening address at a conference on Christianity in China, held at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome.
When considering the Church’s mission and theological reflection, Gallagher said, “two expressions or, more precisely, two principles stand out, which should interact with each other, namely ‘Sinicization’ and ‘inculturation.’ I am convinced that an important intellectual and pastoral challenge arises in an almost natural way from the bringing together of these two terms, which indicate two real visions of the world.”
“From these two visions, it should be possible to work out the coordinates of an authentic Christian presence in China, which could present the special nature and the newness of the Gospel in a context deeply rooted in the specific identity of the age-old Chinese culture,” Gallagher said.
The second shrine, that of Our Lady of the Mountain in Anlong, was demolished because it lacked the necessary “building permits,” officials said. Last week, the Catholic faithful of Anlong had asked their coreligionists around the world to pray for their sanctuary to save it from being demolished.
The pace of destruction of Christian symbols has actually increased since the Vatican signed an agreement with China over the appointment of bishops in late September, AsiaNews reported.
Media reported Wednesday that officials had forcibly removed a cross from a church in Zhumadian Diocese in Henan province on October 3; demolished the cross at Lingkun St. Michael Church of Yongqiang Parish in Zhejiang province on October 11; and removed two more crosses at Luoyang Catholic Church in Henan the following day.
On October 15, authorities ordered the Anlong church in southwestern Guizhou to remove structures and crosses erected as part of a local pilgrimage, claiming they were in violation of planning laws. They further threatened to confiscate the income from the pilgrimage unless a fine was paid by October 20.
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