The sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Henan and a myriad of Catholic churches across the country have been harassed by the Chinese regime.
by Li Guang
Altar destroyed, Virgin Mary statue removed
In late September, the altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the central province of Henan was demolished on orders by the United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau of Linzhou city. The only remaining Virgin Mary statue in the sanctuary, kept inside the ruins of the Church of Our Lady atop the mountain, was dismantled and taken to a church at its foot.
The sanctuary has been subjected to crackdowns for years. Built in the first years of the 20th century, the church on the mountain was almost entirely destroyed by the Japanese during the Second World War and by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Believers started returning to the sanctuary in the late 1970s, to celebrate their faith with pilgrimages and liturgies.
In 1987, large pilgrimages to the site were banned, limiting the number of pilgrims to 300. Twenty years later, the provincial government announced that the sanctuary would be destroyed with explosives. Pressured by China’s Catholics and the international community, the authorities suspended the plans but banned altogether the traditional yearly pilgrimages to the sanctuary on July 16 that year, calling them “illegal religious activities.” On the evening of June 5, 2018, the sanctuary’s Way of the Cross was forcibly destroyed.
“The government regards the Mount of Our Lady as a threat. It won’t feel at ease until it obliterates it,” a local Catholic said angrily.
Eyewitnesses reported to Bitter Winter that on that September day, a churchgoer sat down in front of an excavator that was brought to remove the altar, attempting to stop the demolition, but officials dragged him away. The altar was soon destroyed, and its remains were ordered to be buried in a pit.
“We can do nothing about it. Xi Jinping is following in Mao Zedong’s steps; it’s like during the Cultural Revolution,” a Catholic clergy member commented. Local Catholics are reluctant to abandon the Mount of Our Lady regardless of the government crackdowns. Since no religious activities are allowed on the mountain, believers gathered at its foot to pray on All Saints’ Day, November 1.
According to a government insider, Linzhou city is one of the key targets of the provincial religious inspection team, and some local officials have been punished for “ineffectively suppressing religion.”
“The government claims in public that believers are also citizens and should be respected, but during internal meetings, it is said that believers are enemies and that religion should be eradicated despite the freedom of belief prescribed by the Chinese Constitution,” the official told Bitter Winter.
Catholic venues demolished or shut down
On October 30, the government of Guantao county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Handan in the northern province of Hebei, dispatched about 300 police officers to demolish a government-approved Catholic church, claiming that it illegally occupies arable land. The priest and several hundred believers knelt in prayer outside the church, trying to stop the demolition. They guarded the church throughout the night, but to no avail.
The next day, government officials gave orders to destroy the church. Two elderly Catholics entered the church to protest the demolition but were brutally dragged out. Soon after, the church was turned into a pile of ruins amid the grieving cries of churchgoers.
Video: The cross is being removed from the church.
In mid-July, more than 30 officials from Linzhang county, administered by Hebei’s Handan city, stormed into a Catholic church that is not part of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and ordered to remove its cross and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard. The officials closed down the church afterward.
A Catholic from Taiyuan city in the northern province of Shanxi told Bitter Winter that in October 2018, the meeting venue to which he belongs was shut down for refusing to join the CPCA. Since then, members of the congregation take turns hosting Mass at home, informing each other about the place and time of meetings right before they are held.
A Catholic meeting venue in Suiling county in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang was shut down in July this year for refusing to join the CPCA. The congregation of nearly 100 believers now celebrate Mass secretly in a nearby vineyard.
After the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the Vatican allowed Catholics to join the CPCA but said that the communities who refuse to do so for reasons of conscience should be “respected.” It seems that the part about “respecting” conscientious objectors was somewhat not understood by the CCP authorities.