Chinese Catholics pray outside closed churches in Mindong

gathering outside the church 1 Catholic pray outside of a Catholic Church in Nanma, June 2019. | Bitter Winter

New pictures and video appear to show Catholics praying outside of churches closed by the government in the Diocese of Mindong, China.

Pictures and video provided to the magazine Bitter Winter, published March 1, show Chinese Catholics praying in the dark outside of closed churches, one of which is identified as being in the town of Saiqi. The magazine also published photos of documentation from local authorities closing churches for fire-safety reasons and installing surveillance cameras outside.  

Several Catholic churches in the Diocese of Mindong have been closed by the government in recent months. All of the churches reported to have been closed are affiliated with priests and lay Catholics who have refused to register with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).

Bitter Winter reported that more than ten churches in the diocese were closed by January 16, in an area that remains heavily-loyal to the underground Catholic Church.

An estimated 90,000 Catholics and 69 priests reside in the Mindong diocese, the vast majority of which are affiliated with the underground Church.

The government cited "substandard fire control measures" for five of the churches, the magazine said.

China is home to more than ten million Catholics, with six million registered as members of the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, according to official statistics. Millions of Catholics belong to the underground Church, which, unlike the CPCA, is not overseen by the Communist party and has always been in communion with the Holy See.

An agreement reached in September of 2018 between the Vatican and China on the ordination of bishops was intended to bring the CPCA into communion with Rome and unify the Church in China. According to some reports, the government's persecution of the underground Church has intensified after the agreement was signed.

A January report of the U.S. China Commission found that Chinese Catholics suffered "increasing persecution" after the deal, where the government was "demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy." Priests and bishops have reportedly been detained or have gone into hiding.

According to pictures and video produced by Bitter Winter, congregants of Buxia church in the town of Saiqi prayed outside the closed doors at 4 a.m. on January 19. In the video, taken in the dark, candles burn outside a building as people stand and chant.

Another picture, of Huanghouli Catholic church, shows surveillance cameras overlooking the entrance. The cameras were reportedly installed after the church's closure.

Pictures also reveal a before-and-after look of a Catholic church in Dongzhao village, where the altar and religious statues and objects were reportedly removed.

The diocesan bishop's residence-once home to the diocese's former bishop Vincent Guo Xijin-has also been shuttered. Bishop Guo has reportedly been left homeless for months after refusing to register with the CPCA.

Guo was first detained by police during Holy Week of 2018 after he refused to sign a document registering with the CPCA. In September of 2018, when the Vatican reached its provisional agreement with China which brought seven illegitimate bishops into communion with Rome, Guo was asked to step down as bishop of Mindong, which he did -  accepting a position as auxiliary bishop.

However, Guo has consistently refused to sign documents registering with the CPCA, despite the encouragement of the new bishop of Mindong, Vincent Zhan Silu.

After Guo refused to register, Chinese authorities closed his residence, ostensibly for fire safety violations, and he has since been reported to be on the run from police.   

In a recent interview with CNA, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and a critic of the Vatican-China deal, said that Bishop Guo is "on the street."

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"I said that may be an exaggeration, that he is on the street. But actually it's true, because the government doesn't allow anybody to accept him," Zen said.

Vatican guidelines released in June of 2019 noted that demands to register might include statements supporting the independence of the Church in China, and stated that "the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions."

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