.- Priests and parishioners have barricaded themselves in a Catholic church in the Chinese province of Hebei. According to reports, the Catholics are attempting to prevent the Chinese government from tearing down the Church.

The protest began at 6am Thursday morning at the church in Wu Gao Zhang, part of the Guantao district of Hebei, on the coast of northern China. Officials have ordered that the church be destroyed even though it is fully recognized and approved by the government. According to the website AsiaNews, local authorities have said the building lacks appropriate permits.

In September 2017, China enacted strict new regulations concerning religion. Since then, authorities have been vigilant in enforcing permitting requirements. Churches that are not found to be in compliance are destroyed.

According to AsiaNews, many Chinese Catholics say that last September’s Sino-Vatican Agreement has served to embolden the government to take punitive action against Catholics who did not belong to state-approved churches.

Officials have reportedly claimed that “the Vatican supports us” and have ordered an additional 40 churches be destroyed.

For decades, the Church in China was split between the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association,” a state-run Church under the control of Chinese Communist Party, and the underground Church that was in full communion with the Holy See. The 2018 agreement, the details of which have not been released, was intended to unify the two ecclesiastical communities, although multiple reports out of China have indicated that priests and laity who refuse to worship at government-run churches are have faced increased persecution.

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