FENGXIANG, China – A Chinese priest who was injured in a church property dispute with the local government said that narrating the part of Jesus during a Palm Sunday Mass helped him to connect his suffering to Jesus’ suffering.
The Asian church news agency UCA News reported that Father Francis Gao Jianli, 37, the parish priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Fengxiang Diocese, is back in his rectory after being beaten in the mayor’s office March 16 and later hospitalized. The cathedral is in Fengxiang County, in the western part of Shaanxi province.
The Palm Sunday Mass April 5 began with the Way of the Cross, followed by a procession in the cathedral compound, reported UCA News. Each of the 500 Massgoers held cypress branches and sang hymns during the procession to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, UCA News said.
During the Gospel, Father Gao read the part of Jesus while other priests and seminarians read the parts of the other protagonists during Christ’s passion.
Father Gao told UCA News April 6 that reading the part of Christ was a deeply moving experience for him.
Father Gao’s beating arose from a dispute between the local church and the district government’s property management office over ownership of a piece of land in Xiangong, a town in the city of Baoji. Both parties in the dispute, which started some years ago, had agreed the land would not be developed until a settlement was reached.
This year, however, the town government decided to take over the land despite church opposition. On March 16, some strangers threatened Catholics guarding the land. The Xiangong mayor then asked Father Gao to come to his office to settle the issue. The priest, however, was locked up in the office and beaten by two men who also mocked the church, local Catholics said.
Government officials had promised to resolve the land dispute by the end of March, but as of April 8 a settlement had not been reached, UCA News reported.