Source: Direct Reports from China
Date: June 19, 2018
In December of 2017, a Catholic “underground” church in the Weibin District of the city of Xinxiang in Henan Province set up a youth fellowship. Catholic underground churches belong to the clandestine Catholic organization in China whose bishops are appointed by the Vatican, as opposed to the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, whose bishops are appointed by the regime. Soon after the fellowship was announced, a video related to it was posted online, which stirred up the attention of the village secretary. She, along with several village government employees, went to the church and demanded the keys to the building wanting to close the church down. The officials told the believers that they did not have the required permits and were not allowed to hold religious meetings there. The believers, determined to protect the church, refused to give the officials the keys. The angered village secretary sent several patrol officers to the church at night; they climbed over the wall, cut off the power, and smashed rice cookers, leaving the church and its courtyard in complete disorder.
After the church had been vandalized the believers started to meet in secret at Ms. Zhang Fengzhi home, but the persecution did not stop. One morning in December of 2017, about 30 believers were meeting in Zhang Fengzhi’s house when a dozen officials stormed in. One of them yelled at the believers that holding religious meetings at home was illegal and attempted to apprehend the priest. An 81-year-old believer tried to physically block the priest from being taken away suggesting to talk and resolve the issue. The owner of the house, Zhang Fengzhi, said, “Why can’t we meet at home if you have closed our church? What law does believing in God break? On what basis are you arresting us?” A young district official threatened that they would also arrest her, not only the priest if she continues arguing. The government officials called the police who arrived promptly and arrested both Zhang Fengzhi and the priest, taking them to a local police station.
At the station, an officer took Zhang Fengzhi’s photo and registered her personal information. She once again demanded to know what law she and the priest had broken for being arrested. The officer scolded her and said that being Catholic in China was illegal. “The Party has determined that you are a cult. If you hold one more religious meeting, you’ll do prison time!” He also threatened the priest to return where he had come from because he could not preach here anymore.
The police let them both go that day, but soon after, the priest received a text message with another threat: “If you don’t leave the Catholic Church, you’ll be made to disappear.” Frightened for his life, the priest fled to Rome where he previously studied.
The members of the congregation continue to hold meetings in secret and only in small groups, afraid of being harassed and arrested. “The Chinese Communist Party will do anything to wipe out religious beliefs, but they can never wipe out our faith. God’s place in my heart can never be wiped out. No matter how they persecute me, I will walk with God until the end!” said Zhang Fengzhi commenting on the situation of believers in China.