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Chinese officials assault elderly Catholics during raid at Jiangxi church

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

Four elderly Catholics suffered injuries after more than 100 government officers reportedly broke into their church in the city of Ji'an in Jiangxi province last month.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), the officers from City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau, commonly known as Chengguan, were employed to confiscate the church property on Nov. 21, although they had no legal basis for doing so.

The four elderly Catholics were injured while they were defending the church from the officials, who also tore religious posters and shattered religious icons and statues.

UCA News noted that the Chengguan have less power than the police but they are known for their "thuggish" enforcement of by-laws relating to street vendors, hawkers and illegal taxi operators.

Following the raid, Bishop John Baptist Li Suguan of Jiangxi called on priests to spread news of the incident to the public. The next day, priests and about 70 Catholics from the area had marched to Ji'an City government offices demanding that those responsible for the violence be punished.

An anonymous source said that the city government has agreed to negotiate with the church to avoid exacerbating the situation.

Priests reportedly started negotiating with the government on Nov. 27. City officials promised to investigate the use of violence by Chengguan, penalize those involved in any wrongdoing and compensate those who were injured in the raid.

The church property — which includes an ancillary building, rectory, convent, hospital and farmland — was originally donated to Ji'an North Gate Church in the late 19th century by a rich French Catholic widow.

While the property had been confiscated by the Communist Party in 1949, the law mandates that all property should be returned to the church.

Ji'an's local Press and Publication Bureau of Culture, Radio and Television had sought to occupy the property for its use but has only managed to take control of the ancillary building following a series of negotiations with local Catholics.

A prayer request published on a Chinese website is asking Catholics to "pray for the Lord to watch over the faithful there so that they will be treated in a fair and just manner. Based on the principle of rule of law, we will also use non-violent, peaceful means to fight for what we should get and what was ours originally."

Gina Goh, ICC's Regional Manager, issued a statement condemning the government's attempts to confiscate church property.

"While it is not uncommon for the Chinese government to illegally occupy confiscated church property meant to be returned to the church according to State Council, the use of force and menace against innocent believers is barbaric and contradicts rule of law which President Xi Jinping has faithfully promoted," Goh said.

"The Ji'an government should investigate the thug-like behavior of its workers and return all property to the faithful of North Gate Church, where it belongs," she added.

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