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China targets church-run kindergartens in crackdown against religion

(Reuters/Christian Shepherd)A room that used to house Sunday School classes is pictured at a church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China December 18, 2017.

Chinese officials are reportedly conducting raids on kindergartens linked to churches as part of its bid to tighten its grip on religion.

China Aid reported on Friday that Beijing officials had conducted a three-day raid on Beatitudes Public Kindergarten, which is run by Aijiabei Church, from March 28 to 31.

Security officials reportedly confiscated books and furniture, and prevented teachers and staff from entering the school.

"I wanted to enter the kindergarten ... but they turned me away," Zhu Bin, one of the teachers, said, according to China Aid.

"Several security guards sat in front of the gate all night long. [Officers] observed the scene from a few cars parked around the kindergarten. Some security guards patrolled in the school. The parents and teachers were outside the kindergarten, trying to retrieve their personal belongings, but the security guards did not let them in," the teacher continued.

Prior to the raid, 20 men who were believed to be backed by the government had broken into the school on March 25 and threw away office supplies.

The church and the kindergarten are reportedly being evicted by the landlord even though the lease has not expired. The school has already relocated its elementary portion, and the landlord now wants the rest of the church to move out.

The landlord has so far refused to compensate the church for the renovation costs to the kindergarten amounting to 400,000 yuan ($63,424.00 USD).

Another kindergarten run by a church was raided in the province of Henan last month. The Tian-ai Kindergarten, which is run by Zhifang Church in Weihui parish of Anyang Diocese, was reportedly shut down on March 14.

A source from the church told UCA News that officials from the local fire bureau, public security bureau and education bureau had disqualified the kindergarten following an investigation.

"Nearby kindergartens which are run much more badly were not seized — only the one run by the church," the source told UCA News.

The closure of the Henan kindergarten came just days before a government-backed bishop delivered a speech lauding the Catholic Church's contribution to China.

In his speech during a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of Yulin stressed that the Chinese-backed Catholic church was gaining the support of people because of its social services.

Yang, who is recognized by the Vatican, commended the church for having a positive influence in China, noting that it runs nine orphanages, seven homes for handicapped children, 43 kindergartens, 173 schools and several more schools, clinics and hospitals.

He argued that the Church must integrate into China's culture so that it would maintain its foundation of religious doctrine.

His remarks echo those made by President Xi Jinping, who told the National Congress in February that the expression of religion must be "Chinese in orientation."

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