Catholics Continue to Stage Protest in Tianjin amid Police Standoff

Surrounded by police, around 50 Catholic clerics have not given up their protest in a bid to claim back their properties in Tianjin from the Chinese government.
( [email protected] ) Dec 22, 2005 06:20 PM EST

Surrounded by police, around 50 Catholic clerics have not given up their protest in a bid to claim back their properties in Tianjin from the Chinese government.

The sit-in protest was first launched on Dec. 15 when the 48 priests and 2 nuns from the Diocese of Taiyuan in the neighboring Shanxi province arrived in Tianjin, a sea-side city 150 km southeast of Beijing. They lobby for the return of several empty buildings located on the harbor front, which they claimed belonging to their diocese, according to an Italy-based Catholic newspaper.

Last Friday, some 30 thugs arrived on the scene with steel bars, sticks and bricks and severely beat up the defenseless Catholic protestors, leaving at least four priests and a female parishioner seriously injured, Reuters reported based on a statement released by the group.

The group also complained that instead of investigating about the brutal attackers, the police have held the priests in a police station for questioning.

Beatings and police standoff, yet, have not discouraged the Catholic priests’ sit-in actions. According to Reuters, just days before the Christmas, the group is surrounded by police in one of the empty buildings in northern Tianjin and braving freezing nights.

"We're desperately hoping for a resolution as soon as possible," said priest Wu Jingwei, as quoted by Reuters. "We've not come to cause trouble and we don't want this to escalate.

"We're priests, we don't fight. We've never experienced this before. We want the government to take this thing seriously and sort it out soon," he added.

"But we cannot be frightened out. We will not compromise."

Meanwhile, the priests and nuns involved by receiving regular food from supporter. They are members of China's official Catholic Church which respects the Pope as a spiritual leader but rejects his administrative authority, Reuters reported.

As Beijing has broken ties with the Vatican since 1951, the underground Catholics are often subjected to harassment and persecution by the Chinese police, but the persecution over the official Church by the Chinese police is actually quite rare.

Wu told Reuters that police cars remained outside the building on Thursday.

"This has been going on for decades. We've sent so many people, written so many letters, made so many phone calls. But there has still been no result. This is our last resort. There's no other choice," he added.

According to AsiaNews, prior to the sit-in campaign in Tainjin, the Diocese of Taiyuan has sent several letters to the Tianjin Real Estate Department and sent representatives to raise the issue with the religious properties administrators, yet all of the complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Last Sunday, two days after the group was beaten up by unidentified thugs, the Diocese of Taiyuan has also sent a letter to the United Front Ministry, the central Beijing government’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Shanxi province’s United Front Department, and Shanxi province’s Religious Affairs Bureau, accusing the Tianjin local government for the violation of laws established by the central Beijing government.

According to the letter, the violation is associated with the Religious Affairs Regulations of China that came into effect on Mar. 1 this year, which stated, "The Law safeguards places of worship and real estate legitimately used by religious communities. It safeguards property and the legitimate use of houses, buildings, structures and all properties and incomes therewith."

In addition, the Catholic Diocese claimed that the properties were in fact "the necessary means" to support themselves.

Sources say that the buildings were belonged to the diocese but were confiscated during the Cultural Revolution. However, the Chinese government has not returned the properties to the diocese as promised.

Similar dispute was also raised between the local authorities and the Catholic community in the neighboring province of Shaanxi. In the city of Xian, 16 defenseless nuns were severely beaten up by some 40 thugs in late November when they were trying to protect their property from being demolished.