Chinese officials arrest priests during raid on historical church

(Reuters/Aly Song)FILE PHOTO: Faithful from a Catholic church take part in a Christmas parade in Shanghai, China December 24, 2017.

Several priests were reportedly arrested on Friday when local officials conducted a raid on a historical Catholic Church in China's central Henan province.

According to China Aid, the authorities conducted an investigation on the neighborhood around Nantang Catholic Church without notifying priests and nuns, and abruptly closed it and cut off its electricity.

When priests contacted the police, they were taken into custody and were prohibited from accessing the church. By 8 p.m., the authorities had already demolished four of the church's crosses.

The Nantang Catholic Church, built by Spanish missionaries in 1924, had served as a Communist Party army base during the civil war against the democratic Kuomintang. During the war that lasted from April 1927 to May 1, 1950, the church had been used to shelter individuals who could not fight.

As a result, the Shangqiu government granted the church state-level protection and it was renovated from 2005-2009.

Since early February, officials in Henan province have stepped up its crackdown on churches following the implementation of China's revised Religious Affairs Regulations.

In the city of Nanyang, officials created a new initiative explicitly forbidding any kind of religious gatherings in people's homes. All Christians in the city are required to join an officially registered church and those caught attending or hosting meetings outside of a registered religious venue will be subject to a fine of 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,700).

In Luoyang, officials have reportedly hired local gangs to break into churches and other gathering places of local Christians. Doors and windows were broken during the attacks, while furniture and religious books were confiscated. Additionally, the unidentified men have reportedly abducted and detained large numbers of church attendees and pastors.

The Chinese government, under the administration of President Xi Jinping, has been placing tough restrictions on religion, which also apply to Communist Party officials.

Party officials, as well as children, students or members of the Chinese military, are prohibited from adhering to any religion. In Shandong province, Communist Party members are being investigated by government agencies to make sure that they are not religious.

A collective punishment was recently implemented by Chinese organizations to isolate Christians among Party members from one another. The policy mandates a deduction amounting between 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (U.S. $3,200 to $4,700) from the salary of all employees if any member refuses to sign a statement denouncing all religious beliefs. Members are also punished if anyone is found to be a volunteer at a church, according to China Aid.

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