The only Catholic church in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, was destroyed overnight Monday and the priest and lay leader detained by police.
The demolition is believed to have been carried out pursuant to a court order.
Parishioners today set up camp near the ruins to try to prevent any new construction on the site.
They had arrived for morning Mass on June 8 to a pile of rubble littered with pieces of the altar and five-meter cross in a pile of rubble.
Church sources told ucanews.com that about 100 people arrived around midnight on June 7 to demolish the Dongsheng Church belonging to the open Catholic community.
Local pastor Father Gao En and lay leader Yang Yizhi were woken by the noise and tried to stop the destruction but were taken away in handcuffs.
They were returned to the parish after being detained for more than 20 hours at the police station, Church sources later told ucanews.com.
The sources said the church had previously received a demolition notice. One or two police cars were still stationed near the site today, the sources said.
Newly ordained Hohhot Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu sent two priests to Ordos to investigate the incident. They are negotiating with local officials for compensation, the sources said.
The 150-square-meter church, which served a community of about 1,000 Catholics, was legally registered in May 2009. However, the local government recently demanded the demolition of the church to make way for a new road.
Church leaders had talked with the government several times without success, sources said.
“How could the government demolish the church secretly in the middle of the night and cause the ‘disappearance’ of our Church leaders while talking about social harmony?” one source asked.