Shocking footage of Chinese officials tearing down crosses from a church during a raid in Henan Province has been captured by a priest as persecution of Christians in the country continues to escalate.
According to persecution watchdog, International Christian Concern, the incident occurred in Shangqiu Catholic Church South Cathedral on Friday. According to the report, clergy first alerted police when an unidentified group stormed into the church and shut down the electrical power. However, when police arrived, they took the priests away, confiscated their cell phones, and barred them and the nuns from entering or leaving the site.
A video of the incident was captured by Father Francis Liu, who uploaded the footage to Twitter on Friday. The video shows a large crane removing a large rooftop cross from the stately cathedral.
ICC notes that the cross removal was particularly heinous because Shangqiu Catholic Church South Cathedral is sanctioned by the government and was accredited as a "Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level" in 2002.
In 2013, the State Administration of Religious Affairs also recognized the church as one of the "Nationwide Harmony-Creating Religious Venues." It was built by Spanish Augustinian missionary Francis-Xavier Ochoa OESA in 1924 and is now attended by thousands.
Hebei Priest Yang Jianwei said on Sunday that authorities came back later and replaced some of the crosses with smaller ones.
"They claim that the local authorities had a misunderstanding so they put the crosses back!" a source familiar with the incident told ICC.
Still, ICC says the incident is just one more example of China's increasing censorship of Christianity.
Regional Manager Gina Goh said, "As President Xi Jiping moves to become China's leader for life, religious liberty continues to erode. The crackdown on churches used to be targeted mostly at underground communities, but we are now seeing increasing assaults and harassment on state-sanctioned churches as well. Please pray for the Church in China to persevere despite growing persecution."
In 2014, the government launched a campaign in Wenzhou to demolish "illegal" churches and tear down crosses. During the "beautification" campaign, as many as 360 crosses were removed from places of worship.
Hundreds of Christians, including pastors, lawyers, and activists, have been arrested for speaking out against the ongoing persecution, and many of them are still detained. Human rights attorneys who provide legal support to churches in China have also been subjected to police brutality and coerced into confessing on television that they have disturbed the peace, and jeopardized national security.
Because of this, the country is ranked 43rd on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution. Still, there are now around 30 million Christians in China, while independent estimates suggest the number is about 60 million, most of whom are Protestants.