A senior official in China’s state-sanctioned Catholic church on Saturday denied his association was cracking down on churches loyal to the Vatican following an unconfirmed media report that nine priests were arrested this week.
AsiaNews, a missionary news service close to the Vatican, reported Friday that nine priests from the underground Catholic church in north China’s Hebei province were arrested by police Wednesday as they gathered to pray near the city of Baoding.
The report called the alleged arrests part of a campaign by the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association to subdue the underground church in Hebei, a traditional stronghold of Catholic sentiment in northern China.
AsiaNews said the province has some 1.5 million Catholics, most belonging to the unofficial church.
Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the association, said he had heard of no such arrests and denied there was a campaign under way to crush the church, which is loyal to the Pope.
“It would be impossible for our association to crack down on illegal or underground churches,” Liu said. “China has always provided education and assistance for underground priests.”
How do you know when a Communist official is lying? His lips are moving: “Sure, sure, we’ve never persecuted underground priests or bishops or laypeople. All those years in ‘re-education camps’ were for their own good.” Right.
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 illegal, underground churches, following only bishops appointed by the Pope, although the divisions are not hard and fast. Many priests and laypeople, and even bishops, are members of the patriotic association in public, and of the underground Church, in secret.
n February 2003, Catholic World Report ran a series of articles from behind the Great Wall, showing the plight of Chinese Catholics firsthand and how they suffer for their faith. The articles are “The Seed takes Root”, about Bishop Jia Zhi Guo of Zhengding, Hebei, of the underground Church, who remained faithful to his apostolic mission despite heavy persecution; “The ‘House Church’”, about an underground parish that gathered secretly in Beijing; and “We Are Brothers”, about the efforts to unite underground Catholics with those who belong to the patriotic association, “Notes from the Underground”, in which Chinese Catholics tell the world about their struggle to survive, their loyalty to the Holy See, and their determination to promote the unity of the Church; and “An Open Letter to Catholics Living Overseas” from Chinese Catholics to their brothers and sisters in the West not only asking for our prayers, but also offering their prayers for the challenges we face to our faith.
Read them all for a sobering and chilling look at what it really means to live your faith under the threat of oppression and persecution.