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5a572ca3a75e205e138b4b5f-750-398A city in southern China is offering cash to citizens willing to inform on “illegal religious groups,” ramping up China’s crackdown on underground churches.

The Guangzhou Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs officially announced the offer on its website to anyone who provides information about the structure of an illegal religious group, or information leading to the capture of key members and leaders of those groups.

Reporters could receive monetary amounts of 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 yuan ($450, $750 and $1,500 USD) for providing them with information. The size of the prize will depend on the scale of the illegal activity.

The regulation, called “Incentives to Motivate the Masses to Report on Illegal Religious Activities,” will provide clues and assistance to “relevant government departments” for tracking down “illegal religious groups or members.”

Guangzhou authorities characterized “illegal activities” as establishing places of religious worship without government approval, holding religious activities in non-religious institutions or locations, accepting religious donations, organizing Chinese citizens to go abroad for religious activities such as seminars, meetings, or worship without approval, or providing religious education without approval.

According to the South China Morning Post, the city’s crackdown has come down hardest on unregistered Protestant churches. The government has also demolished Catholic churches, Buddhist temples and Muslim mosques that were not government-approved.

Ying Fuk-Tsang, who is the director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the crackdown is more common than people think.

“This will compress the survival space of house churches,” he told the Morning Post. “Not only will they have to deal with the official crackdown but now also the threat from their neighbors.”

Recently, Chinese authorities arrested just over 40 Christians worshiping in homes after the closure of Chengdu’s Early Rain Covenant Church. Their arrests came after over 160 more arrests of church members were made last year.

China ranks as the 27th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.

In France, there has been a startling trend over the last few months. Their churches are being vandalized.

With the recent desecration of a dozen Catholic churches in France in just one week, investigators will not rule out the possibility of arson for the most recent fire at Notre Dame. Notre Dame is undoubtedly the most well-known landmark to be affected.

Reports indicate that 80 percent of the desecration of places of worship in France concerns Christian churches. In the year 2018 this meant an average of two Christian churches attacked per day in France.

Paris’ second largest church, Saint-Sulpice, briefly burst into flames on March 17. The fire damaged the church’s doors and stained glass windows on the building’s exterior, but firefighters managed to bring it under control before anybody was hurt.

The fire that hit Saint-Sulpice reportedly started in a pile of clothes left outside the cathedral, before climbing up the door and to the stained glass. The clothes are believed to have been left there by a homeless person. Police said the fire was “not accidental,” but the pastor of Saint-Sulpice argued it was not an anti-religious attack.

Past just attacks on churches, other religious acts of vandalism include a cross of human excrement that was found in the southern city of Nimes, a statue of Mary that was smashed in a Paris suburb and a statue of Jesus decapitated in an Atlantic seaside resort with the very Christian name of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie (St. Giles, Cross of Life).

Some are pranks by youngsters tempted to deface a local church used mostly by older people in their town. With Sunday Mass attendance down to about 5 percent of all Catholics, many church buildings around the country do little more than mark the center of town. Church buildings are being closed down or regrouped into larger parishes, which means they’re often locked or empty for most of the week and an inviting target for vandals.

Thieves make up a second group attacking churches, which often contain gold-plated vessels, old paintings and elegant statues that, while not masterpieces, are worth a bit of cash on the black market. The government has a program to help churches finance better surveillance systems, but often it’s not enough or priests think regular locks are enough to protect their buildings.

The third group are those that are against the Catholic doctrine. These vandals tear down crosses, scatter consecrated hosts and smash statues to shock Catholics who consider these objects to be signs of their faith itself.

Incidents of these attacks have gotten little to no mention in the press. Apart from official denunciations of individual attacks, Catholic leaders in France have refrained from dramatizing what they say is a worrying trend.

“We adopt a reasonable attitude. We do not want to develop a discourse of persecution. We do not wish to complain,” Archbishop Georges Pontier, head of the French bishops conference, said when asked about attacks on churches.

The biggest uproar has come from conservative politicians.

“The images of flames in Saint Sulpice church this weekend are one more example of the violence committed against Catholics,” Philippe Gosselin and Annie Genevard said, referring to a recent blaze.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

This week is Holy Week. For Christians across the globe, this week marks the anniversary of the most important and momentous moments in human history. As such, the crowds of pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land swell, and their numbers in Jerusalem grow enormously. Every one of them is hoping to walk where Jesus took His last steps and see the city where He spent the last few days of His Earthly life. One of the most popular places for pilgrims to visit is the Cenaculum, the site on Mount Zion that is traditionally identified with the Upper Room where Jesus and His apostles held the Last Supper.

The Cenaculum’s claim to the location of the Upper Room is obviously of a great deal of importance to many Christians. The ancient walls, worn surfaces and poor lighting, however, have made it difficult for researchers to study its history and verify its claim. In an exciting turn, those issues have become far less problematic obstacles due to advances in technology.

Israeli archaeologists recently used state-of-the-art technology to create a more complete picture of the purported Upper Room and its history.

“Using ground-penetrating radar, laser measurement, laser scanning, and an advanced photography technique, we managed to reach every corner of the Last Supper room. We managed to create an accurate 3-D model of the place.  We even managed to penetrate inside the ancient stones,” said archaeologist Amit Re’em.

Among the discoveries uncovered were the Lion of Judah and Angus Dei. Both were found on keystones in the arches of the room.

“[On] the keystone of the Gothic arches and on the keystone, where nobody saw before, you could see the holy lamb, the Agnus Dei… and the holy lamb is holding a flag – the victorious flag. Jesus holds the victory flag,” Re’em said. “[On another keystone] you can see the tail of the lion… you can see the leg and the head is a little bit broken. The Lion actually is the symbol of King David. Now we know according to the Bible that Jesus is the descendant of the Davidic dynasty.”

Beneath the current Crusader church, there is evidence of a Byzantine church that is nearly 1,000 years older.

“This church possessed many, many relics,” Re’em said. “According to the traditions in the story, the crown of thorns was here and maybe the Byzantines built their church on a much earlier and ancient sacred site.”

There is, however, not quite enough evidence present to confirm if the Cenaculum was really the site of the Last Supper, but the absence of hard proof does not mean that the Cenaculum is definitively not the site of the Last Supper.

“The tradition regarding the Last Supper room is very, very old,” Re’em said. “It goes back for centuries… [As an archeologist, you] hear this ancient tradition [and] explore there because inside [the tradition] is embedded, is hidden some truth.”

One can only hope that the hidden truth in the Cenaculum comes to light quickly and gives pilgrims in Jerusalem something else extraordinary to celebrate this Holy Week.

CBS Miami/YouTube

CBS Miami/YouTube

They say a picture tells a thousand words and this couldn’t be truer.

Reuters Philippe Wojazer captured this somber yet breathtaking photograph of a cross still standing after the Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire.

When the dust finally settled, this incredible image of the cross was left.

Despite the flames going up for hours, look at the altar inside!

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The massive blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris devastated large parts of the 850-year-old church on Monday evening.

The fire lasted for many hours. While the main structure was saved, firefighters were unable to save the central spire, which had been added during a restoration project in the 19th century.

Two policemen and a firefighter were slightly injured during the fire, according to Paris Fire Brigade.  Thankfully, no lives were lost during this tragedy.

In addition to no lives being lost during the fire, we know that the cathedral’s bell towers, the crown of thorns and one of the cathedral’s rose windows ultimately survived. Other major art pieces from Notre Dame were also saved, thanks to the fire services and police, Paris’ mayor said.

While Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation, Remy Heitz told reporters, “Nothing suggests it was an intentional act.”

Firefighters are now working to ensure there is no further risk of fire and that the structure is stable.

Donors have already pledged hundreds of millions toward rebuilding efforts.

As we begin Holy Week, many see this image as a sign of hope that Jesus Christ is with us, even in the darkest hours.

We want to know what you think.

Shae House/YouTube

Shae House/YouTube

Shae House, a resident of Lynchburg Va., says she recently spotted an image of what appears to be Jesus when she was walking along the Blackwater Creek trail ABC 3340 reports.

Initially, the woman decided to take pictures of the rocks because she thought it was a pretty formation. She was amazed after she looked back over the pictures of what they appeared to reveal, so much so that it startled her.

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“I gasped and then eagerly started to take more pictures. I was delighted. I was listening to my praise and worship music on my phone and was praising God humming, I just didn’t think I’d SEE God,” says House.

What she was particularly amazed by was the crown of thorns.

It seems that more recently, people have been spotting breathtaking images of Jesus in unusual places.

Italian artist Alfredo Lo Brutto was able to photograph a beautiful shot that looked like Jesus with His arms outstretched during a sunset in Italy.

“I was enchanted by the view,” the artist said.

“I don’t often share pictures on social media, but when I took this one, I instantly felt like I wanted other people to see, because it was so beautiful.”

The photo immediately went viral with many social media users saying that they could clearly see the shape of Jesus in the sky with His arms in a blessing gesture.

Lo Brutto’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect as he captured the image right when sunlight pierced through the clouds. It looked very similar to an illuminated version of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

House talked about her experience seeing Jesus’ face in the YouTube video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uzp-EL179UI [/embed]

We want to know what you think!