In 2013, Zhejiang’s government officials initiated a campaign of church destruction and cross removal that has resulted more than a year of intense confrontations and open displays of resistance between Chinese Christians and the Communist Party.
The campaign, called the “Three Rectifications and One Demolition,” was announced as an effort to demolish illegal structures, mostly around Wenzhou, China’s most Christian city. The organization, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), recently published a timeline recording at least 400 crosses removed and 35 churches that were totally or partially destroyed in Zhejiang province. In 2014 and the early months of 2015, China’s political leaders have overseen what is probably the most destructive anti-Christian campaign of recent decades, despite official assertions that the campaign has nothing to do with religion.
Further north, in Hebei, the death of the underground bishop of Yixian, Cosma Shi Enxiang, has been hidden from public knowledge by the authorities, and his family are still awaiting—and hoping—to receive his remains so he can be given a Catholic funeral and burial.
As reported in a recent article in The New York Times, Bishop Shi was under arrest and detained for much of his life for, “refusing to renounce his loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, which ordained him in 1947.” Shi was 93 at the time of his death in prison (or labor camp); he was seized on April 13, 2001 at the home of his niece in Beijing, and has been held in an unknown location since then. When he was a priest, in 1954, Shi was first arrested because of his fidelity to the pope, and in 1957 he was sentenced to hard labor in Heilongjiang, and then in Shanxi’s dangerous coal mines. Shi Enxiang was consecrated an underground bishop in 1882, and much of his episcopal ministry has been spent in and out of prisons and at camps for hard labor.
For many China Church watchers, the previous three years are seen as a return to a darker era of anti-Christian persecution in China. Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s recent report, however, optimistically notes some signs of improvement in the treatment of Christians in China. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has stated that, “Bishop Shi . . . has sacrificed himself . . . and has endured lifelong sufferings for the sake of religious freedom. We pay high respect to his great soul!”