China arrests Vatican-approved bishop, priests, seminarians
Authorities in northern China have arrested a Vatican-appointed Catholic bishop, his seven priests and an unknown number of seminarians in what is seen as part of a new crackdown on the underground Catholic Church in the communist country.
Police arrested Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu, 63, of Xinxiang Diocese in Henan Province on May 21, a day after detaining priests and seminarians for allegedly violating the country’s repressive new business regulations. religious.
Chinese authorities have not recognized the Xinxiang Diocese since the Vatican erected it in 1936.
Bishop Zhang was secretly ordained in 1991 because his Vatican appointment was not approved by the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church of China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
China has implemented a new set of rules for religious clergy that went into effect this month. He asks all the clergy to register with the state in order to serve Catholics while asking Catholics to democratically elect their bishops.
The rules ignore the Sino-Vatican deal, which would have agreed to appoint bishops by mutual agreement, ending the state’s dispute over appointing Catholic bishops without the Vatican mandate.
The arrests came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary
Dioceses headed by Vatican-approved bishops are part of the underground church not aligned with the state. The regulations, say local Catholics, aim to end the underground church by criminalizing and arresting its clergy while working outside the state-approved clergy database.
The Sino-Vatican agreement was signed for two years in September 2018, allegedly to unify the Catholic Church. It was renewed in 2020, but the deal led to increased persecution of the underground church, Catholics say.
Since the agreement went into effect, the Vatican has approved seven Beijing-appointed bishops, but the state-sanctioned church has approved and installed five Vatican-appointed bishops.
Bishop Zhang, who heads the diocese of 100,000 Catholics, was not approved by the state church even after the Sino-Vatican accord was signed.
He was continually under pressure from state authorities and was arrested several times before being subsequently released.
Local Catholics said a government-appointed administrator has led the diocese since 2010 and reports directly to the state. The bishop does not have the right to manage diocesan finances and resources.
The arrests came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary. Church authorities have been accused of breaking the rules.
The media claimed that around 100 policemen surrounded the building the day before Bishop Zhang’s arrest. As the police deployment continues, a manhunt is underway to search for other seminarians who have allegedly fled to avoid arrests.
Last year, authorities in Xinxiang closed Catholic schools and kindergartens in accordance with the Chinese Communist Party’s ban on education for religious groups, including the Catholic Church, reported Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious freedom and human rights.
Since 2018, several orphanages run by churches for the poor, orphans and disabled children have been closed in various provinces of China.
The Mother of the Lord and of the Church is worshiped with special devotion in Sheshan Shrine
Authorities accused Christian groups of proselytizing and converting children through charity work and violating a crackdown in the new regulations.
The crackdown in Xinxiang comes at a time when Pope Francis has called on Catholics around the world to pray for Christians in China as they celebrate May 24 the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians and patron of their “great country. “.
“The Mother of the Lord and of the Church is venerated with special devotion in the Sheshan Shrine in Shanghai and is assiduously invoked by Christian families in the trials and hopes of daily life,” said the Pope.
Mainland Chinese Catholics have a tradition of making a pilgrimage each year to pray at Sheshan Shrine, the country’s most famous Marian shrine, especially around May 24.
In recent years, authorities have placed numerous obstacles in front of pilgrims and this year they have barred all visits there during the month of May, citing the coronavirus pandemic even as amusement parks in the region are open.