Chinese Christians in Handan (Hebei) were prevented by the Religious Affairs Bureau from holding a day of prayer and fasting Saturday, June 4 as authorities declared the gathering as illegal.
According to AsiaNews, police were claiming that the religious gathering was illegal because no permit was secured as Christians from different districts were scheduled to gather for the prayer rally. Officials secured the area, prevented anyone from getting in, and even prohibited the priests to leave their homes.
The bishop who launched the novena of prayer a day earlier, Bishop Stephen Yang Xiangtai, was left with no other choice but to call off the gathering while instructing his flock to just pray and do penance at their homes. They were supposed to ask for forgiveness and do penance at the church in Xiao Di Ba where hosts and three church tabernacles were burglarized and desecrated on separate instances on May 26 and 27. The prayer was to atone for their sins of failing to protect the church and prevent the crime from happening.
"That the police and Public Safety are afraid of a gathering for prayer and penance is really laughable," a local Catholic told AsiaNews.
The Catholic added, "It is true that we're in the period around 4 June (anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre), but the police neuroses always result in an attack against religious freedom."
The source speculated that authorities may have been frightened off of possible riots especially as the prayer rally was coincidentally set on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
A watchdog for Christian persecution in the communist country has earlier released a report stating that a total of 20,000 Chinese Christians suffered religious persecution at the hands of the Communist Chinese government in 2015 alone.
"In 2015, China Aid documented 634 cases of persecution in which 19,426 religious practitioners were persecuted, representing an 8.62 percent increase from 2014's 17,884 religious practitioners persecuted," ChinaAid reported in its "2015 Annual Report Chinese Government Persecution of Christians and Churches in China."