Hebei authorities forcefully erected a flagpole with the Chinese flag outside the church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Zhengding, the residence of Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, one the most prominent leaders of the Underground Catholic Church.
National symbols and Party propaganda play an essential role in President Xi Jinping’s “sinicization” policy. The initiative to hoist the national flag outside the places of worship, proposed by the state-sanctioned religious institutions in July this year, raised concerns among the underground Catholics as yet one more step toward the eradication of churches loyal to the Vatican.
In display of power, authorities in the northern province of Hebei raised the China’s national flag outside the church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Zhengding, the home of Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo who has been detained multiple times and held under house arrest for nearly 30 years because of his refusal to join the government-approved Patriotic Catholic Church.
Party cadres showed up at the church in the village of Wuqiu in Jinzhou city on October 1 and forcibly dug up a pit to erect the flagpole. Bishop Jia, closely supervised by the authorities even at his residence, opposed the act and reiterated that the church was a place to worship God, not the Chinese flag.
According to eyewitnesses, to block the officials, an elderly friar jumped into the pit that was being dug, but the village cadres threatened to bury him alive if he did not come out of it.
The cadres also threatened other believers that if they obstructed the work, the church’s water and electric supply would be cut off and their children would not be allowed to go to school.
Bishop Jia was upset and felt powerless since he did not manage to withstand the force with which the authorities implemented their agenda. He had successfully put off the demands to raise the flag from the Religious Affairs Bureau officials many times in the past. Bishop Jia is calling all church members in the Diocese of Zhengding to pray for the persecuted Catholic Church in China.
A believer at the church said, “We couldn’t stop them from putting up the flag, but we won’t participate in the flag-raising ceremony or sing the national anthem. If the government doesn’t let us recite scripture or hold mass in the church, we will do it at home. The more they persecute us, the stronger our faith becomes.”
According to sources, the government has also forcibly erected flagpoles at other underground Catholic churches that belong to the Diocese of Zhengding.
Despite the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the CCP continues to persecute the Underground Catholic Church. While the most optimistic observers expected a peaceful, if gradual, merger between the Underground Catholic Church and the CCP-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church after the deal, it seems that, in fact, the CCP interprets the agreement as compelling the underground bishops and priests to join the “Patriotic” organization—or else.
Reported by Feng Gang