These articles are intended to present a very particular reality, which plays a determining role in the life of the Catholics in China, either by conscripting them under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or by casting them back into the catacombs. The article has been published on the website of the Foreign Missions of Paris. This presentation will allow the uninformed reader to understand what are the stakes of the agreement between China and the Vatican, which should be renewed for the second time in October.
40 years after the founding of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, it is possible to decipher the purpose and the objectives that the leaders of the CCP had set themselves and that they hoped to achieve through its creation.
The Beginnings of the New Regime (continued)
The arrest of “reactionaries” and the formation of patriotic associations
The arrest and impediment of a large part of the ecclesiastical authorities left the field open to the candidates favored by the government. This also created favorable circumstances for the accelerated development of patriotic associations at the local level and facilitated the participation of priests and lay people in meetings of a political nature.
The adhesion, even belated, of several important ecclesiastical personalities to the government initiatives led the authorities to conclude that conditions were then ripe for undertaking the third attempt to create a “patriotic association” of Catholics at the national level. This happened in January 1956.
Mr. Yang Shida writes: “The patriotic organizations of Catholics developed rapidly after the elimination of the influential bases of imperialism and counter-revolution located within the Catholic Church. For the time being, the form of these various organizations differ according to region. Their denomination is varied. There are no links or reciprocal relations between them.”
“They have no governing body to ensure their unity and their centralization. The delegates who, in January 1956, participated as members of the Committee or as observers in the fourth meeting of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference were called to a meeting with Xi Zhongxun, Secretary General of the Council of State.”
“During the meeting, it was unanimously proposed to encourage the foundation of a national patriotic organization of Catholics, to unify the activity of the local patriotic associations of the country and to enable all Catholics in China to unite to create an independent, prosperous, powerful organization, and to help the government carry out its religious policy.”
“Xi Zhongxun considered that our proposals were not only legitimate, but also beneficial to the people, the motherland, and the Catholic Church. He gave his backing and support. ‘The Patriotic Association is a matter that belongs to Catholics,’ he said.”
“’Your duty is to organize it. If at any time you need government assistance, the government will certainly help you. Popular government works for the people. It has the responsibility and the duty to do everything that benefits the people.’”
From that day, the Patriotic Association of Catholics of China took shape. Yang Shida's “Elimination of the Influential Bases of Imperialism and Counterrevolution” was very concrete. For years, Catholic personalities, bishops, priests, and lay people, considered as rebels to a collaboration, were systematically arrested and disappeared into the state prison system.
Priests disappeared by the hundreds. The regime mainly persecuted diocesan administrators, bishops or priests. Thus, the new bishop of Xiwanzi, Msgr. Melchior Zhang, was arrested at the beginning of 1952. He was released from prison “for health reasons” and was placed on probation in March 1985.
The Bishop of Shanghai, Msgr. Ignace Gong Pinmei, arrested on September 8, 1955 with approximately seventy priests and hundreds of faithful, spent 30 years in prison and three more under house arrest before taking the path of exile to the United States in 1988.
The message was clear: either you adapt or you have to pay a very high price. The victims of these dragnets disappeared into the gulags. Many died there and those who survived only came out decades later.
Fr. Linus Wong, diocesan administrator of the diocese of Jiangmen, Guangdong, spent 30 years in a forced labor camp in Qinghai. Fr. Philippe Wang Ziyang, administrator of the diocese of Yanggu, Shandong, died in prison on January 31, 1990, after more than 36 years of detention.