At the church of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Fr. Ju Ruibin "rescinded an earlier invitation" to Reuters to attend Good Friday services at his church "after apparent pressure" from the men who followed the reporters.
Shepherd and Sagolj wrote that "While relations among the rival churches are cordial, some villagers warned that local schisms could arise from renewed attempts to push together the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association … and underground churches loyal to Pope Francis."
But one townsman, Pei Ziming, said the Vatican-China accord is somewhat contradictory, since the two countries have opposing agendas.
"They say you can see what truly matters to a country by considering its architecture," Pei said.
"In many European countries, the biggest buildings are the churches. In China, the biggest buildings are all banks and government offices, because that's where real faith lies."
The Chinese government under President Xi Jinping has been pursuing efforts to "Sinicize" religion within the nation. Xi, in his role as general secretary of the Communist Party, has encouraged "new approaches" to religious and ethnic affairs.
The Holy See is in negotiations with the Chinese government that could eventually lead to Vatican recognition of seven illicitly ordained bishops aligned with Beijing and to a more normal life for underground Catholics.
A Chinese government official who oversees religious affairs said April 3 that government restrictions on bishop appointments are not a violation of religious freedom, as he emphasized that religions in China must "adapt to socialist society." The official, Chen Zongrong, added that "I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations."
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, has been notably opposed to any agreement with the Chinese government, saying, "better no deal than a bad deal."
Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original form, for length and clarity.