Chinese government agents have demolished a Catholic church in Jinan province, bulldozing it to the ground, despite a government permit to operate legally.
Some 40 law enforcement officials and government workers stormed Liangwang Catholic Church on the morning of July 17, according to a report published Saturday.
The communist authorities who arrived with no prior warning searched the three women who had been acting as caretakers to the church—Gao Rongli, Zhang Siling and Li Xiangmei—smashing their cell phones and forcibly removing them from the premises.
Another 30 men arrived later in the day with bulldozers, razing the building to the ground, and demolishing the altar and church furnishings. Officials reportedly set fire to what remained of the church after its destruction.
The Liangwang church demolition was justified as part of an urban development plan for a new residential area and railway station, reports stated.
The July 17 incident was the second destruction of a church in China’s Jinan province in recent months and a third church is expected to suffer the same fate soon. Officials demolished the Shilihe Catholic Church earlier this year and Wangcun Catholic Church is reportedly slated to soon be razed.
According to Hong Kong scholar Ying Fuk-tsang, the recent crackdown on Christian communities in China comes as a consequence of more than two years of preparation at provincial, city, and county levels by the Communist Party’s increasingly powerful United Front Work Department.
Discussions with the local Religious Affairs Office for the relocation of the church had been taking place, but there was no prior warning that the demolition would take place, nor has any agreement been reached on a new site for a church.
The Liangwang Church was originally built in 1920 and later reclassified as a private house during the Cultural Revolution. The church was eventually rebuilt in 2006 and licensed for Christian worship.
Local Christians convened at the site of the demolished church on July 23 to pray and protest against government heavy-handedness.
Government sanctioned destruction of Christian churches has been ongoing under the presidency of Xi Jinping.
In June, communist party officials used excavators and pickup trucks to demolish the sanctuary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in China’s Henan province, a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics since its founding in 1903.
Local government authorities tore down the shrine’s images of Christ along the Way of the Cross, reportedly because “authorities feared there would be too many church members in the daytime.”
Each year on July 16 thousands of pilgrims travel to the shrine from nearby provinces, such as Hebei and Shanxi, to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In 1987, the government outlawed large religious gatherings and limited the number of pilgrims to 300.
Henan is home to an estimated 2.4 million Christians, making it the second largest Christian population in the country and an area of special concern for the officially atheist communist party.
Last February, a high-ranking Vatican official surprised the world by saying that China has created the best model of Catholic social teaching in practice today.
After visiting Beijing for the first time some months ago, Argentinean Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, returned to the Vatican full of enthusiasm for the Asian country and confided to a journalist that “at this moment, the Chinese are the ones implementing Catholic social teaching best.”
The Chinese “look for the common good and subordinate other things to the general welfare,” Bishop Sánchez said in a glowing interview with Vatican Insider.