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Report: China draws up plans to eradicate underground church

January 12, 1997

BEIJING (AP) _ China’s ruling Communists have formulated a detailed strategy to eradicate the underground Roman Catholic Church, a U.S.-based Catholic group said Saturday.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation of Stamford, Conn., released what it said was a Communist Party document issued to officials in the southeast province of Jiangxi, detailing steps against Catholics worshiping apart from government-sanctioned churches.

Foundation president Joseph Kung said the 15-page document was smuggled out of China.

The document, dated Nov. 20, is based on a national plan to suppress illegal worship and is consistent with intensified persecution of underground Catholics in recent months, the group said.

The document was addressed to Communist Party authorities in Chongren county in Jiangxi, and detailed measures ordered against underground worshipers in Donglai, a small town about 30 miles southeast of the provincial capital, Nanchang.

Authorities were told to prevent large illegal gatherings on Christmas Day, punish church leaders and to destroy illegal gathering places.

``Eradicating the illegal activities of the underground Catholic Church is a decisive and critical political work,″ the document said. ``Underground religious activities are illegal and dangerous.″

Teams of workers should be sent into villages where the underground church is strong to promote the government’s religious policies, it said. They must ``eat, live and labor″ with the people, visit families and solve their problems to help endear Catholics to the government, it said.

``Stubborn and core members″ of the underground church must be prosecuted but the rest ``will be indoctrinated by education,″ it said.

Since seizing power in 1949, the government has insisted that Christians join government-sponsored Catholic or Protestant churches. Rather than break with the worldwide Catholic church, many faithful have continued to worship in underground churches.

In a statement, Kung said the document shows that official repression of the Roman Catholic Church ``is a carefully planned strategy.″

The foundation is named for its honorary chairman, Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-mei, who was appointed by the Vatican in 1949 and refused to cooperate in setting up the separate official church under Communist rule. He was imprisoned from 1956 to 1985, and now lives in the United States.

Officially, China has fewer than 15 million Christians, but estimates by missionary groups run as high as 90 million, including as many as 8 million Roman Catholics.

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