China: Persecuted Catholics in Xinjiang

March 11, 2021
Yining Church, now demolished, before and after transformation in 2018

Xinjiang Autonomous Territory (northwest China) often makes the front page of Western media due to the oppression of Uyghur Muslims. But Catholics also suffer the full brunt of Communist persecution, as a recent event has once again reminded us.

Yining is a city of over three hundred thousand inhabitants located on the edge of Xinjiang province, on the border with Kazakhstan, on the path of the ancient Silk Road.

Beijing is three thousand kilometers further east, but do not believe that the Communist hold is weaker there: as is the case everywhere in China, Christians are persecuted there.

In Yining, Catholics have about two thousand faithful: they are the descendants of the Chinese exiled by the Manchu Qing dynasty (17th-20th centuries), or during the Cultural Revolution.

The small flock had obtained a building permit for a church in 1993, when a slight religious easing was felt in the Middle Kingdom, under the “reign” of Deng Xiaoping (1978-1997).

At the time, the local government chose to sell the Catholics land far enough from the city center so that the church was not too visible.

But, over time, urban growth has become such that the Church of the Sacred Heart has come to attract the attention of communist authorities and real estate speculators, who are often the same.

In 2018, the local branch of SARA - the Office of Religious Affairs - removed four bas-reliefs adorning the facade of the place of worship, two statues of the apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, the cross adorning the tympanum, the bell tower , and the two domes, in the name of the sinisation of the Church undertaken by the new master of Beijing, Xi Jinping.

Everything began to accelerate at the beginning of 2021, the Year of the Ox is becoming lethal to the Church of the Sacred Heart: so, on February 19, the faithful of Yining were summoned to carry out a major operation cleaning out of the building, prior to its demolition.

Ironically, the communist mandarins working in the demolition are the same ones who, in the year 2000, had witnessed the blessing of the church built with their permission. And who should pocket the large profits from the resale of the land, in the good faith of the Great Helmsman [Mao], one hand on the little red book, the other on his wallet.

Devotees in Yining are now churchless, as are two other parishes in Xinjiang - Hami and Kuitun - which have suffered the same fate in recent years, distant and forgotten witnesses of a silent persecution.