A number of priests and lay Catholics were injured trying to protect a church property from being destroyed by bulldozers in Wangcun village in China's northern Shanxi province.
A video of the clash between government representatives and Catholics has been posted online where believers can be heard shouting "Jesus save me!" and "Mother Mary, have pity on us," AsiaNews reported on Tuesday.
Security officers assaulted Frs. Chen Jun, Gao Binglong, Ma Ning, Shen Xuezhong and several laypeople in the incident, ucanews.com added, with hundreds of believers attempting to block the bulldozers from demolishing the church property.
"The security officers and workers left only to discuss countermeasures. I fear that they will come back," said Shen, parish priest of Wangcun Church.
The property in question was demolished back in 1992 before being rebuilt as a factory by local authorities. The village committee handed back the property to the Changzhi Diocese in 2012, Shen explained, allocating all facilities of the old factory on the property to the diocese.
"But in April this year, the village committee suddenly said that they have to demolish the old factory and the fencing wall that now belongs to the church," the priest explained.
The village committee, under the branch of the ruling Communist Party, said on Monday that it's moving ahead with the demolition plans, but the church said that it has ownership over the fence.
Authorities have said that the orders are part of requirements to "demolish the old and broken," though persecution watchdog groups such as Open Doors, China Aid and others have warned that there is a campaign to destroy churches and suppress the rise of Christianity in the country.
"We lodged a complaint in April. The local authority set up an investigative team that was meant to negotiate with the diocese, but there was no right of reply about their proposal, and so they straight away tried to demolish it by force," Shen added.
"If it is demolished, the authority would not give any compensation to the diocese. We surely will not agree," he said.
The bulldozing work has reportedly been blocked, though parishioners are worried that officials will resume their efforts at night.
AsiaNews noted that there are 50,000 Catholics served by 47 priests in Changzhi, with the diocese owning over 60 churches and chapels.
The U.S. State Department's annual religious freedom report earlier this month also criticized China for religious freedom violations against Christians and others. The Chinese government hit back against the U.S. by pointing to the latter's issues with racial tensions, urging it not to meddle in its affairs.
China Aid's Bob Fu told The Christian Post, however, that China is trying to muddy the waters.
"The Chinese government is directly responsible for their abuses, while the U.S. government is not necessarily responsible for racism," Fu told CP.
He added that China "implements local and national policies that specifically target specific groups of people and even goes so far as to hold official conferences about how to properly execute these policies. This denotes a direct government responsibility for the abuses."
The video of the Christians trying to stop the bulldozer can be watched below: