Underground bishop, vicar general detained in China's Hebei province

Flags of China and Vatican City Credit FreshStock Shutterstock CNA The flags of the People's Republic of China and of Vatican City. | FreshStock/Shutterstock.

A bishop of the underground Church in China's Hebei province and his vicar general were placed in detention this week, and a lay Catholic activist was jailed in Hong Kong.

According to UCA News, Coadjutor Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua and his vicar general, Father Zhang Jianlin, were detained by officials of Hebei province this week.

"The government's aim is to paralyze the diocese. If the diocese fails to manage the community, then the government will use this as an opportunity to take it over," an anonymous priest from the underground Church told UCA News.

According to the UCA News, the bishop had been taken in custody the morning of March 29 after he received a text message in regards to his arrest. He had also been detained for indoctrination in April last year and was recently released in January.

UCA News reported that Father Zhang was seized March 28 for violating a traveling restriction. Since his identity papers were confiscated, the priest has not been allowed to travel even to a neighboring city.

In November two of Bishop Cui's priests, Fr. Su Guipeng and Fr. Zhao He, were abducted to be "indoctrinated on the religious policy of the Chinese government … because they refuse to enroll in the Patriotic Association." Two priests of the Diocese of Chongli-Xiwanzi, also in Hebei, were also taken.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Yip Po-lam, a member of the Justice Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong, was jailed March 28. A court had refused to hear an appeal regarding a conviction she received five years ago for disturbing the peace during a protest.

The peaceful demonstrations were protesting the controversial Northeast New Territories Development Plan, which displaced villagers and damaged property. Chairman of the Hong Kong Catholic Institution Staff Association, Alexander Yu, decried the court's decision, stating Yip had acted justly, according to UCA News.

"We agree with Yip's action as her motives were genuine when calling on the general public to examine the injustices of the development plan," he said. "The social teaching of the Catholic Church points out that our love for neighbors urges us to seek social justice."

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

In September 2018 the Holy See and Beijing reached an agreement meant to normalize the situation of China's Catholics and to unify the underground Church and the CPCA.

The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

In December, two bishops of the underground Catholic Church agreed to step aside in favor of bishops of the CPCA, in the wake of the September agreement.

One test of the result of the Holy See-Beijing agreement may be the appointment of a bishop to the Diocese of Jining (Wumeng) in Inner Mongolia.

The South China Morning Post reported March 29 that the diocese is nearing its selection of episcopal candidates, making it the first time that the Vatican and Beijing might agree on a bishop appointment since the September 2018 accord.

Religious freedom is officially guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, but religious groups must register with the government, and are overseen by the Chinese Communist Party. The Sinicization of religion has been pushed by President Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013 and who has strengthened government oversight of religious activities.

In 2017, Xi said that religions not sufficiently conformed to communist ideals pose a threat to the country's government, and therefore must become more "Chinese-oriented." Since he took power, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 church buildings.

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Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.

The US Commission on International Religion wrote in its 2018 report that last year China "advanced its so-called 'sinicization' of religion, a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with 'Chinese characteristics.'" Christians, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners have all been affected.

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