As is customary in China each year, on the eve of the Easter holidays, the communist regime, led with an iron fist by Xi Jinping, seeks to strengthen its control over the “unofficial” – so-called “underground” or clandestine – Church, recognized by the Vatican but not by Beijing.
On April 7, 2022, authorities arrested Bishop Shao Zhumin from Wenzhou (Zhejiang) and took him away on a plane. The faithful are worried because they do not know where their pastor is, and the police have confiscated his mobile phone.
It is suspected that the government wanted to prevent him from celebrating Holy Week, including the Chrism Mass. Shortly before, the police also arrested diocesan secretary Jiang Sunian, who was later released.
This is not the first time that the police have arrested Bishop Shao, even making him disappear for months. In early November, he was released after being detained for several days. He is often subjected to brainwashing to push him into joining the “official” Church, controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The shadow of Beijing also hangs over the diocese of Xuanhua (Hebei). In January, ahead of the Lunar New Year, authorities abducted more than ten clerics, including Bishop Augustin Cui Tai – under house arrest for more than ten years – and his deputy Zhang Jianlin. As of now, there is no news of their eventual release.
The repression of the diocese is explained by the tensions in the Zhangjiakou region. Several competitions from the recent Beijing Winter Olympics were held there. In the eyes of the government, which wants everything to go well, the Catholic Church is a destabilizing factor.
The Diocese of Xuanhua was founded by the Holy See in 1946, but in 1980 the government created the “official” Diocese of Zhangjiakou, and the Dioceses of Xuanhua and Xiwanzi were incorporated into it. However, the diocese of Zhangjiakou is not recognized by the Holy See.
In addition to the usual pressure to bend pastors to the authority of the patriotic “Catholic” Association, an expression of the Communist Party, the Chinese government is reportedly seeking information on Bishop Zhao Kexun, who died in 2018 and until then was the ordinary bishop of Xuanhua.
After a raid in 2007, the prelate lived in hiding in a secret place to avoid problems with the authorities. The police allegedly tortured Bishop Cui and some priests to obtain information about Bishop Zhao, including where he was buried. For Xuanhua Diocese, this situation is an unprecedented disaster.
Many detained bishops and priests have not yet been released. The faithful receive no pastoral care. On the Internet, there are reports that defame and slander the underground church.
Although a provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops was signed – which was renewed in October 2020 – the persecution of Church representatives, especially those who are not official, has not stopped.