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Catholic church receives revival
By Zheng Caixiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-30 07:09

GUANGZHOU: The Roman Catholic Church, or Stone House, the largest of its kind in South China, is experiencing its biggest ever remodeling job.

In addition to protection of the historical building in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, the facelift will provide a better facility and nicer environment for Catholics to conduct Mass and other religious gatherings, Fang Xiaowen, deputy director of Guangzhou's Yuexiu District, said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the local government will also reconstruct the ancient European-style architectural structure church into a famous Catholic church that can compare with Notre-Dame in Paris, France, Fang said.

Stone House, which was built with mostly granite, is also known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Guangzhou.

And the church is expected to become a new tourist attraction in Guangzhou in the wake of the remodeling work, attracting both Catholics and visitors from around the world, Fang added.

The church was listed as a key State historical relic in the late 1970s.

The first phase of the rehabilitation of the church costs more than 19.64 million yuan (US$2.37 million).

Three million yuan (US$360,000) has been donated by the church itself while the rest is invested by the government.

The project officially started on July 18 and will last for about two years. The site is currently closed until the project is finished.

The first phase includes reconstruction of the leaky roof replacement of all 98 windows, that cover a space of more than 600 square metres, re-stringing all lights and wires inside the church, rebuilding corridors, stairs, and exterior walls and other church facilities.

The reconstruction of the windows alone will cost more than 4.13 million yuan (US$500,000).

Meanwhile, a new big mechanical clock will also be built to substitute for the old one that decorates the roof of the church.

And the second phase will focus on improving the environment around the church.

A primary school which is situated in the western part of the structure will be moved away to give way for construction of a garden. And some buildings will also be bulldozed for construction of two squares in the eastern and southern areas.

The second phase is scheduled to be completed in 10 years.

The maintenance of the church has been praised by many Catholics and local residents in this southern metropolis.

Cheng Zhiyang, a local believer, said Stone House did need to be renovated as it has really become too old-looking.

"It (repairing the church) reflects the government's great concern on religious affairs and its efforts to try to offer a better environment for religious activities," Cheng told China Daily.

"The church has been a symbol of religious freedom on the Chinese mainland," said Cheng who used to participate in Masses every week before the maintenance project started.

On May 26, 2003, an iron gate of the church was stolen. The gate weighs more than 250 kilograms, stands 4 metres high and measures 2.4 metres wide.

And how this was accomplished remains a mystery, despite more than a year of police investigation.

Many other local residents also are hoping the old church can be well protected and become a scenic spot in the city.

The construction of the church spanned 1863 and 1888. Stone House has a history of more than 140 years.

Designed by Frenchmen, construction of the church lasted for as long as 25 years and cost more than 400,000 French francs at that time.

Located in Guangzhou's busy Yide Road in Yuexiu District, the church has a floor space of 2,754 square metres and stands 58.5 metres high.

The front of the church is a pair of stone towers with a huge clock in the west and a clock room in the east. The church has been rehabbed twice in its history.

In the 1920s, all the wooden roof beams and stairs were replaced by reinforced concrete ones.

In the 1980s, the central government invested more than 150,000 yuan (US$18,000) to repair the church.

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