To make unregistered Catholics join the official Patriotic Church, authorities throughout China harass congregations and clergy members.
by Ling Tian
The Vatican-China deal of 2018 has not attained “the Church’s specific spiritual and pastoral aims, namely, to support and advance the preaching of the Gospel, and to reestablish and preserve the full and visible unity of the Catholic community in China,” as the Pope had hoped, addressing China’s Catholics after signing the provisional agreement. Instead, priests and congregations refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) are severely suppressed and controlled, disregarding the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 that, while allowing Catholics to join the CPCA, asked that those who refuse to do so for reasons of conscience should be “respected.” Persecutions seem to intensify ahead of the renewal of the deal, which expires in September.
In April, local authorities took over a Catholic house of prayer in Jianshui county’s Changpojiao village in the southwestern province of Yunnan and destroyed its Hall of the Virgin Mary. Before the demolition, the police tore down all religious images and symbols and threatened to beat anyone who tried to stop them. Two months later, a center for weddings and funerals was built in place of the hall.
“We used to pray and sing hymns in the hall but can’t do this anymore after the government has destroyed it,” a Catholic in the village said.
“The government repurposed the house of prayer because we did not join the CPCA,” another Catholic commented. “Priests and nuns used to come here often, but they no longer dare to visit us since the government started sending personnel to keep an eye on us and report on visitors.”
The house of prayer was built in 2011 with the donations of 120,613 RMB (about $ 17,430). Besides the Hall of the Virgin Mary, it also had a hall for singing hymns and a visitors’ room.
The government also took over the Dominic Primary School and the village’s water reservoir, named Shengjiaquan (Holy Family Spring). Both were built with the money donated by the Saint Paul School and the Holy Family School in Macao.
The government changed the school name into Changpojiao Primary School and replaced the reservoir’s name with a signboard “A Public Draw-off Point.”
In July, police officers visited the homes of several Catholics in Jianshui county’s Miandian town, claiming that they were registering household residents. Instead, they tore down images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and crosses and threatened to arrest those who resisted.
In the Diocese of Mindong in the southeastern province of Fujian, priests refusing to join the CPCA have been facing severe suppressions. On June 24, a house of prayer in Dingtou village, administered by Fu’an city’s Xiabaishi town, received a demolition notice from the town government, which claimed that the venue was an “illegal construction” and demanded the congregation to demolish it within two days.
A few days later, over 30 personnel from the city’s Public Security Bureau and other state institutions stormed into the prayer house to demolish it. A local Catholic recalled that on the demolition day, elderly churchgoers knelt down outside the cordoned-off venue and begged in tears to save it. “We do nothing but sing hymns in it,” the elderly cried.
In early May, the Minqing county government in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, ordered to demolish a nursing home run by a local Catholic church. The venue’s priest was forced to join the CPCA on June 9.
A Catholic nursing home in Minqing county is being demolished:
A Catholic church in Pingding township, administered by the Yujiang district of Yingtan, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, was repurposed in November last year. The venue, built in 1925 and frequented by up to 50 believers, has now been converted into an entertainment center where residents meet to play mahjong and cards or dance.
A local believer said officials had demanded the congregation to join the CPCA before repurposing it. “They want us to listen to priests appointed by the CPCA and demanded us to obey the Communist Party,” the believer commented. Between March and April, local officials went to believers’ homes to replace religious images with those of Mao Zedong.
“Our ancestors we also Catholic, but the government now prohibits us from singing hymns,” a local Catholic in her 60s told Bitter Winter.
Another believer, a man in his 40s, added that people of faith in China are persecuted more and more severely. “It’s going back to the times of the Cultural Revolution,” the man said. “We have no choice but to worship at home. The more they arrest, the more we sing hymns. We can’t renounce God, no matter what.”