Chinese Bishop Disappears, Priests Confined, Convents Closed

ROME, Nov. 28, 01 (Fides/ - A crackdown in the Catholic diocese of Feng Xiang in Shaanxi in central China could cause the diocese to virtually disappear, according to a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Wednesday.

In the past month police have arrested Bishop Lucas Li Jingfeng and his assistant-- both men have since disappeared. The authorities have also confined 12 priests for indoctrination courses, closed a monastery and two convents, and sent seminarians, monks, and nuns home. All of them are part of an underground Catholic community which refuses to join the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Communist Chinese government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which eschews any connections to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in churches that, while openly loyal to the government association, secretly pledge allegiance to the Pope.

Quoting local sources, La Repubblica said that police went to Feng Xiang cathedral and took Bishop Lucas Li, telling him to "pack a lot of clothes" for a "long journey." The security officers told the bishop, "the government says you are invited". The 81-year-old bishop was taken with his assistant to an unknown location. They have not been heard from since November 4.

Feng Xiang diocese is unique. It is perhaps the only Catholic diocese in mainland China which has only an underground community, with no "official" Church. Until recently the bishop, 16 priests, 14 brothers, 25 nuns, and about 20,000 Catholics were free to live their faith in a number of parishes and convents. But last summer, a branch of the Religious Affairs Bureau was opened in Feng Xiang to register Catholics as members of the Patriotic Association, (PA), a government-controlled association headed mainly by atheist Communist Party members.

On November 4 police and security officials went to various parishes, calling priests and parishioners to church and at least 12 priests were taken into custody. The clergymen have been confined in three or four hotels for "courses" on government regulations on religion, which give instructions on how Catholic activity must be controlled. Witnesses say the police threatened the priests: "If you do not join the PA you will no longer be considered priests, your ordination will be declared invalid. You will not be allowed to go to work in church, you will have to stay home." All the priests were ordained by Bishop Lucas Li. The government regulations say a priest may only carry out his ministry with government control and registration.

Meanwhile, the same La Repubblica sources say that on November 21 police went to Feng Xiang monastery and told all the brothers and novices to go home. The same day security guards went to a building next to the cathedral and sent away the 15 seminarians and the four nuns in charge. The same happened in a convent of 20 sisters in a parish in Waiyoutou. Feng Xiang diocese is now left with two elderly priests, aged 90 and 78 and in poor health, respectively at the cathedral and in a small parish. A local Catholic said, "They are trying to eliminate our diocese. We know all about these pressures. All we want to do is to live with freedom of religion, in communion with the Pope and the universal Church. And we are not afraid."

Two years ago a secret Chinese Communist Party document was published abroad that said that in view of possible diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See, the Party would reinforce the Patriotic Association, eliminating all the most intractable of the clergy and faithful. The document said that those accepting government measures [registration of name, parish, number of members, etc.] but refusing to obey the Patriotic Church "will undergo a year of re-education at Patriotic Association centers." Those refusing to undergo re-education "will lose the right to carry out priestly activity."

Numerous Chinese bishops, official and underground, have asked the authorities to disband the Patriotic Association and let the bishops themselves be responsible to the government for Church activity. So far Beijing has refused.

Catholic World News - Feature
28. november 2001

av Webmaster publisert 28.11.2001, sist endret 28.11.2001 - 21:37