The popular bishop was taken away by authorities on August 10. He has been harassed for months to close an orphanage for disabled children he runs for 30 years.
by Shen Xinran
Before the Vatican-China deal of 2018 expires in September, the CCP continues to crack down on unregistered Catholics, ignoring the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 that ask to respect those who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) for reasons of conscience.
On August 10, five days before the Feast of the Assumption, a holy day for Roman Catholics who celebrate the Virgin Mary’s bodily ascent to Heaven, authorities took away Bishop (Julius) Jia Zhiguo from his home in the county-level city of Jinzhou in the northern province of Hebei.
According to a source familiar with the situation, the bishop was taken to a local hotel to be kept under house arrest for breaking the rules of assembly in places of worship to prevent the coronavirus spread. He allegedly allowed some congregation members to sing hymns in the church on the night of August 9. Such activities could only be organized with the local government’s permission, the officials claimed.
Another source reported that the 85-year-old Bishop Jia stated while being taken away on August 10, “I can’t join the CPCA, I’ll die there.”
Bishop Fan Xueyan consecrated Jia Zhiguo as the second bishop of the Diocese of Zhengding in Hebei in 1981. He was arrested several times for refusing to join the CPCA and has spent years in prison and under house arrest.
“The bishop has been under constant surveillance,” a Catholic from the diocese recalled. “He had to report to authorities daily by taking a photo of himself at bedtime. He also had to take photos of what he has eaten, where he has been, and what he has done. He has no freedom at all.”
Over the past few months, the government has been harassing the bishop about the orphanage he has been running for 30 years. He was pressured repeatedly to sign an agreement for the children to be transferred to a state-run orphanage. Half of the orphans, most of whom are disabled and abandoned by their parents, were taken away in June, officials threatening to remove all the children if the bishop and nuns who took care of them did not cooperate.
On June 24, over 70 police officers and 25 employees of a local welfare institution came to the orphanage to forcibly take away 25 older children, while younger ones were allowed to stay temporarily.
An eyewitness reported that all the streets around the bishop’s residence were blocked that day, and officials threatened to punish anyone who would take photos and upload them on the internet.
Less than two weeks later, the bishop was told to hand over the remaining children. “United Front Work Department officials came to threaten the bishop almost every day in July, but he firmly refused to give away the rest of the children,” a source told Bitter Winter.
Facing resistance from the staff and the children, one of whom threatened to kill himself if he were taken away, the officials stopped their relocation but continued to harass the bishop and his staff.
“I feel heartbroken every time I recall my friends being taken away,” one of the disabled orphans said. “I feel scared when government officials visit here. I hide every time they come, fearing that they will take me away as well.”
The authorities also pressured the nuns working in the orphanage to leave the bishop’s residence and join the CPCA, claiming that without the government’s approval, he is an illegal bishop, and all the convents associated with him would be closed.
According to UCA News, Bishop Jia Zhiguo “has refused to sign a document that bans children below the age of 18 from entering churches, which was set as a condition for him to reopen churches” after the coronavirus restrictions have been lifted and continue running the orphanage. The authorities say that Bishop Jia and the nuns could never take care of disabled children unless they join the CPCA. But in fact, even charitable organizations for minors and orphanages run by state-approved religious venues are being banned in China.
A source close to Bishop Jia said that the bishop believes that the government will first remove all the children from the orphanage and then expel the nuns and close down their convents. The ultimate goal is to abolish the bishop’s residence and all unapproved churches.
“As long as the kids remain, the nuns will stay in the bishop’s residence to look after them,” an insider from the diocese explained. “If the children leave, the government will have a reason to expel the nuns.”