The government closed down over 100 meeting venues in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, which are run by priests who continue to resist joining the Patriotic Church.
by Ye Ling
Aiming to indoctrinate and transform Catholic conscientious objectors, the United Front Work Department (UFWD) and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in Fuzhou, the capital of the southeastern province of Fujian, organized a 3-day training conference for the Fuzhou Archdiocese clergy at the end of August 2019. The fact that only five priests attended irritated the authorities.
In retaliation, the government seized over 100 Catholic meeting venues in the archdiocese. In the Fuzhou-administered county-level city of Fuqing, the hometown of Father Lin Yuntuan, the former apostolic administrator and Vatican appointee in Fuzhou, all Catholic places of worship were shut down.
A priest from Fuqing told Bitter Winer that the government believes that Father Lin, a charismatic and influential figure in the archdiocese, leads the Catholic conscientious objectors who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). The CCP sees him as an obstacle in the process of “unifying and transforming” the Catholic clergy. That is why they want to exert pressure on Father Lin by closing down all places of worship in Fuqing, hoping that he will start cooperating with the government.
According to our sources, all venues that belonged to what used to be known as the Underground Catholic Church in Fuzhou’s Jin’an and Gulou districts have been shut down. In October, the government posted a demolition notice at the well-known Haiyan Church (海燕教堂hǎiyàn jiàotáng) in Jin’an district, stating that it was an “unlawful meeting venue.” Four surveillance cameras were installed in the church.
Government officials warned the church’s priest that if he continues refusing to join the CPCA, they will dismantle the church. A congregation member told Bitter Winter that the officials wanted to teach the disobedient priest a lesson by closing the church because he had been absent from the August training conference.
Similarly, Guhuai town government suppressed Yantang Church (雁塘堂yàntáng táng) in Fuzhou’s Changle district in October, claiming that it was an “illegal building.” Government-hired workers wandered around the church holding hammers, shovels, and other tools and started drilling into the concrete floor on the church’s second story to harass churchgoers during Mass. Officials threatened to tear down the church if the priest refused to join the CPCA. The priest didn’t compromise.
On October 11, a group of police officers suddenly burst into a Catholic venue in the Changle district, while more than 30 priests were gathered for a meeting. The officers registered personal information of every priest and then took away Father Guo Jinming, a priest from neighboring Fuqing, on the grounds that he had “crossed the district border to preach.”
After the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the Vatican allowed Catholics to join the CPCA but said that the communities who refuse to do so for reasons of conscience should be “respected.” It appears that the CCP authorities are disregarding the part about “respect.”
A priest from Fuqing revealed that Fujian’s provincial UFWD is planning “to transform rebellious priests” in three groups, starting with Fuzhou’s Changle district, then Fuqing city, and northern Fujian, and finally, the rest of Fujian.
In November, about 30 priests from the Changle district were summoned by officials from the provincial and municipal UFWD and the city’s National Security Bureau.
“The government deploys all possible means to deal with us. One of their approaches is harassment,” said a Changle district priest who refuses to join the CPCA. “They talk with you for at least half a day each time. By harassing you continuously, they aim to break your will in the end.” The priest added that the government has kept the clergy under close surveillance and has barred them from meeting each other in private, fearing that they will unite in resistance.
“Obviously, the government is attempting to force you to join [the CPCA],” explained the priest. He added that the crisis has deepened since the Vatican-China agreement of 2018, after which, he claimed, the Vatican is no longer actively supporting priests refusing to join the CPCA. According to the priest, more and more clergy members turn pro-government, and the rebellious churches are being disintegrated bit by bit.
A priest from the Diocese of Mindong told Bitter Winter that the central government is conducting a systematic campaign against Catholic conscientious objectors. According to him, the first step is to summon all Catholic clergy members for talks, indoctrination, and transformation, forcing them to sign applications to join the CPCA. Taking the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as a model, the CCP will then establish a similar system of management: congregation members – priests – bishops – the leadership of the Bishops’ Conference – CPCA – the Central Committee of the CCP. “Gradually, the regime will be able to completely sever the ties of the Catholic churches in China from their counterparts overseas, Vatican and the Pope in particular,” the priest said, whatever may be written in the 2018 agreement, whose text remains secret.