Amid raids and crackdowns, clergy and congregations of what used to be Underground Catholic Church are continuing to resist being governed by the state.
by An Xin
The Archdiocese of Fuzhou in the southeastern province of Fujian continues to suffer severe persecution, as the central religious work inspection team conducts investigations. To put things in order before the visit by their superiors, local authorities in the province’s capital Fuzhou carried out a series of crackdown operations against the churches and meeting venues that refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and their clergy.
Ever since the signing of the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the CCP interpreted the agreement that all Underground Church priests must join the Patriotic Church and were persecuting those who refused to do so. According to the new Vatican guidelines, issued on June 28, the clergy who once belonged to the Underground Church can join the Patriotic Catholic Church, but the Holy See does not compel them to do it. Many still refuse to turn patriotic, choosing the life of conscientious objectors.
Church ransacked for refusing to obey
On May 19, a Catholic meeting venue on the ninth floor of a building in Dongjiekou area of Fuzhou city was taken over, as the deputy director of the city’s Gulou district led more than 100 personnel to the site. Everyone who came to the venue at the time was intercepted, questioned, and photographed. The officials said that because the venue is not part of the Patriotic Association, it is unapproved, and members of the congregation should join it if they want to continue practicing their faith.
Five days later, over 20 personnel were sent to the meeting venue to demolish some walls because official claimed that they were obstructing the fire escape passage. Doors, parts of the ceiling, wall cabinets, and walls of the suite where nuns resided have been destroyed.
Urban management officers at the scene supervised the demolition and took pictures of the process, claiming that the photos will be submitted to the United Front Work Department and the Religious Affairs Bureau as part of their demolition report.
The once clean and tidy meeting venue has become an utter mess. The shocked believers didn’t know what to do: some were praying, while others wept in sorrow.
“They said that the venue hadn’t been approved and thus was illegal, demanding us to go Ximen Church that belongs to the CPCA. The reason for not allowing the priest to hold the mass is that they want to control our church,” said one of the churchgoers.
Every Sunday since then, police and plainclothes officers guard the entrance to the building of the meeting venue, preventing believers from holding gatherings. More than 1,000 members of the congregation now meet in smaller groups; to avoid being monitored through mobile phones, churchgoers notify each other in person, at the last possible moment, about the time and location of next meeting.
“CPCA’s doctrine is completely different from ours. Once we join it, the government’s aim is achieved. After that, there is no way to negotiate. We must never join!” said the churchgoer.
Local officials ordered to collect information on churches
To cater to inspections by the central government, the authorities of Pingtan county, under the administration of Fuzhou, ordered religious work liaison officers in each village to report back with the information on Catholic churches that have not joined the CPCA, their priests, and persons in charge. Threatened with consequences, the officers were eager to collect as much information as possible, so some even secretly snuck into churches to obtain it.
A churchgoer in the county told Bitter Winter that in the evening of June 1, personnel from the neighborhood committee came to one of the churches in the area and took photos of the mass in progress that were later forwarded to the local police station. The officials found out about the mass although the windows were covered with blackout curtains, and members of the congregation were very quiet.
As soon as the mass ended, a dozen or so officials and police officers intercepted the priest. The committee secretary ordered him to shut down the venue. “There is nothing that the government wants to do that it can’t. Forced demolition and relocation is not easy, but it has been done. If you don’t agree, we will take any action that we wish,” threatened the secretary.
The following day, another Catholic meeting venue in the county was raided. “All the meeting venues that are not part of the Patriotic Association in the county have stopped holding gatherings; you’re the only ones who haven’t,” claimed the officials at the site. “If you continue, we will order the Law Enforcement Bureau to tear the venue down tomorrow.” And the meeting venue was shut down.
As the campaign to shut down unofficial Catholic churches is intensifying, the Fujian government is also demanding the clergy to sign statements of commitment, as reported by AsiaNews. The requirement includes the pledge to continuously work against foreign infiltration and support the ban on minors going to church and receiving religious education, as well as promising to not evangelize without proper state-issued permits.