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Chinese Priests Close Protest, but Insist to Claim Back Properties

The group of Chinese priests and nuns protesting in Tianjin has finally returned home over the weekend, yet they insist to claim back their properties. The remaining 13 priests, nuns and seminarians d
( [email protected] ) Dec 26, 2005 08:07 PM EST

The group of Chinese priests and nuns protesting in Tianjin has finally returned home over the weekend, yet they insist to claim back their properties.

The remaining 13 priests, nuns and seminarians decided to close their protest because the mayor promised that he would deal with the dispute if the demonstrators left, according to Reuters.

One of the anonymous priests spoke to Reuters by telephone from Shanxi, "We've not given up our demand."

"But we had to give the mayor face. He said the deadlock could not go on as it would make the situation even harder to solve."

"We believe that if the Tianjin government has given their word, it will be solved soon. We still want them to give the building back so we can manage it," he continued, before the line was abruptly cut, according to Reuters.

While the Tianjin city government declined comment, it sent to Reuters a fax of an article from the official Xinhua news agency dated Dec. 23 on the dispute.

A spokesman from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs was quoted in the article as saying, "The Tianjin government has a firm and clear policy on religious properties and the protection of the legal rights of religious groups."

The ten-day long sit-in protest in an empty building in Tianjin, which the Diocese of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province claims of their own, has begun since Dec. 15. Originally 50 priests and nuns came from Taiyuan to demand the return of a few properties as promised by the local government.

Just two days before Christmas, majority of the group returned home, leaving 13 others that have refused to go anywhere until the authorities found out a solution. Throughout the course of the demostration, it was reported that Chinese police and cars have surrounded the building closely everyday.

On Dec. 16, some 30 armed thugs even came to attack the defenseless Catholics, yet the local government have not probed into the brutal treatment.

Sources say that the properties under dispute were originally owned by the Diocese of Taiyuan until the government seized during the 1949 Cultural Revolution. The local government has failed to fulfill the promise to return the building in 1993.

The case is considered special because the Catholics involved belong to the China's official Catholic Church and they are not likely to be subjected to harassment.

While this land dispute has not been solved, a second land dispute in Tianjin between the city government and the Catholic Church was unveiled by Reuters.

Another group of nuns from the Sisters of Charity have occupied the abandoned chapel in the northern Tianjin since August, demanding the building be returned to their hands. One of the nuns, who gave her surname as Liu, said on Monday to Reuters.

The 10 nuns are also members of the official Church, which respects the Pope as a spiritual leader but rejects his administrative authority.

Following repeated land disputes between the local government of Tianjin and the Catholic Church, Reuters commented that the tension between religion and government control in China is being highlighted, even as Beijing courts diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

Beijing has had no ties with the Vatican since 1951. Pope Benedict XVI has placed the reconciliation on the top of his agenda since his inauguration, trying to bring back the massive 10 million-strong flock of both official and underground Chinese Catholics under the Vatican's wing in an attempt to recover their religious freedom.