The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has torn down more crosses from Christian churches this month as part of its unrelenting crusade to eradicate the Christian symbol from the Chinese landscape.
On Easter Sunday, authorities ripped down the cross that used to surmount the tympanum of a church in the diocese of Xinxiang in Henan province. A blogger priest, Father Shanren Shenfu said that silence in the face of the destruction of crosses is part of the price to pay for the Vatican’s agreement with the CCP on the appointment of bishops in the country.
“Now when a cross is removed, Christians must be calm and smile,” Father Shenfu said. “Accepting the removal of the crosses as an everyday event therefore seems to be the only great contribution that the Chinese Catholic faithful and all the people of God can make to the continuation of the [Sino-Vatican] Agreement.”
“If you are angry about it, you are considered a criminal!” the priest said.
On April 18, authorities removed the cross from Our Lady of the Rosary church in the diocese of Anhui after parish leaders unsuccessfully petitioned local authorities for permission to carry out repairs on the building. Officials denied the permission, saying the plan is to remove all crosses from Christian churches in the area, both Catholic and Protestant.
On tearing down the cross, the local official told the parish representatives that he was acting on “directions from superiors,” UCA News reported this week. On April 18, the official brought in a team of young people to tear down the cross.
In a separate incident, authorities arrived at a church in Suzhou City in the same Anhui diocese at 4:00am on April 19 and removed the cross from that church as well.
Security forces oversaw the pre-dawn operation, making sure that people could not enter the church, gather outside, or take pictures of the demolition. Police seized the cell phone of a parishioner who tried to snap a picture.
Similarly, authorities removed the cross from a historic Christian church in Hefei on April 27. The Hefei Christian Church (HCC), Hefei city’s largest Christian church, was founded by American missionaries sent by Disciples of Christ to China in 1896.
HCC was the second victim of cross removal in Hefei city, after officials tore down the cross from the Feixi Sanhe Church on April 15.
Officials have removed hundreds of crosses from churches all across China in the CCP’s ongoing crackdown on religious practice. Some of the hardest hit dioceses have been those of the Zhejiang, Henan, Hebei, and Guizhou provinces.
“The same routine and tactics are used all across China,” said a priest from Anhui, identified only as Father Chen. “This is not the case of a particular diocese or province. It is happening all over the mainland, but the mainland church is silent.”
“If the churches don’t unite to resist, many more crosses will be removed,” the priest declared.
Reports suggest that church leaders often offer little resistance to the removal of crosses out of fear of losing the church building itself.
In 2015, the Chinese province of Zhejiang formally banned placing crosses on church rooftops after removing hundreds of rooftop crosses from Protestant and Catholic churches, in order to prevent leaders from restoring the Christian symbol to the top of buildings.
Government agencies stipulated that any crosses must be affixed to the façade of buildings rather than above the roof and may not measure more than one-tenth of the height of the façade.
Since early 2014, Zhejiang officials targeted the city of Wenzhou, known as China’s Jerusalem because it contains half of the province’s 4,000 churches. The city skyline used to teem with rooftop crosses prior to a systematic crackdown that sought to eradicate the symbol.
In its annual report for 2014, the U.S.-based China Aid group said that 1,000 churches had been stripped of their crosses had, with some 50 churches destroyed,.
“It appears that the scope of persecution may be wider than reported due to fear of reprisal from government authorities,” it said.
According to Christian leaders, the cross removal program was granted a brief respite this year while officials were occupied in battling the outbreak of the coronavirus but now that the virus seems to have been contained, authorities have once more trained their attention on churches.