Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong has issued “an urgent appeal” to the Chinese authorities in Beijing to halt the demolition of crosses in the province of Zhejiang in eastern China. “The cross is the sign most representative of the Christian faith,” the cardinal reminded Chinese leaders in his public appeal on Aug. 13. The appeal carries a striking title: “The Sufferings of the Cross.”
“Over the past two years, the crosses erected at over a thousand churches, Christian or Catholic, in Zhejiang Province have been dismantled by force,” the cardinal said. “Those dismantled include many that have been lawfully constructed with permits.
“In some of these incidents,” he said, “members of the clergy and congregation, during their lawful act of defending their faith, have been detained, causing a lot of tension in local parishes.” He added that “these incidents have caused much anxiety among Christians, local and overseas, about the policies of the government in regard to freedom of religion.”
The cross removals have been taking place over the last 20 months, so it is clear that authorities in Beijing know what is happening in this eastern province. For this reason the Chinese cardinal appealed “with utmost sincerity and urgency” to the central government and the relevant authorities in Beijing to take action.
In particular, he called on them to “liaise with the provincial authorities in Zhejiang Province to investigate into what has happened” and to ensure “that all unlawful acts of dismantling crosses be stopped.”
Beijing has long insisted that “freedom of religion” is respected in the People’s Republic of China, but this mass demolition of crosses has led many to question the truthfulness of that statement. The cardinal, who is a very moderate man, is now challenging Chinese leadership to ensure full respect for the constitution and the law of the mainland.
At the same time, as bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Tong called on the more than 500,000 faithful of his diocese to take steps to help their fellow Christians in Zhejiang by choosing “some forms of penance, such as fast and abstinence” and “especially [to] pray for religious freedom, the dignity of the faith” and in this way to “share the sufferings of their fellow Christians in Zhejiang.”
It is estimated that there are more than two million Christians in Zhejiang Province, including some 210,000 Catholics. Significantly, a great many Christians in Zhejiang have resisted the demolitions in nonviolent ways in the face of armed police, as was recently evident in the city of Wenzhou. The city is known as the Jerusalem of China because it is home to an estimated one million Christians.
Many Christians see the cross demolitions as a way for some elements of the Communist party to reduce the growing influence and visibility of Christianity in Zhejiang and throughout China. Cardinal Tong’s appeal is also seen as an act of solidarity with the local, state-recognized bishop of Wenzhou, Vincent Zhu Weifang, who called for prayers—including saying the rosary—and fasting as a way to protect the faith and the crosses.