With priests under surveillance and churches being closed, faithful in China relied on the app to hear Mass and study the lives of saints. Now believers are totally isolated.
A believer in northern China’s Hebei Province has reported to Bitter Winter that “Catholic Little Helper,” an app commonly used by underground Catholics, has been blocked without warning.
Catholic Little Helper is a mobile app developed by Beijing Canaan Technology Co., Ltd. The app provides daily Mass and Bible readings, morning prayers, the Office of the Lauds and Vespers, biographies of saints, and other rich content. Church members could use the app to chant the Mass readings posted online.
On December 16, 2018, underground Catholics in Fengrun county, in Hebei Province’s Tangshan city, opened their Catholic Little Helper app as usual to chant Mass readings, but discovered that it had been blocked.
“The government doesn’t let us hear Mass,” one of the church members told Bitter Winter. “In the past, Vatican Radio sent Mass content every Sunday. Using the Little Helper, we were able to see the latest Mass it sent. Now, we can’t see the latest content anymore. When holding gatherings, all we can do is read some previously memorized content.”
Believers at an underground Catholic church in Hebei’s Langfang city also had this problem. One of the church’s members said, “In the past, there was a lot of content on the app. We could listen to lectures or sermons. Now, after opening the app, there is a pop-up message reading ‘You have violated regulations.’ The screen is entirely blank. All the content is blocked.”
Bitter Winter has previously reported that after the Vatican-China deal of 2018 was signed, the Underground Catholic Church faces even more pressure than before. Many underground priests have been summoned for questioning by the authorities, or have been imprisoned or put under house arrest. Even if they are released, they remain under tight surveillance and prohibited from celebrating Mass publicly. It is becoming increasingly difficult for church members to hear Mass, so many used Catholic Little Helper.
The church member from Fengrun county added, “The government has already sealed off our church and have suppressed the priest because he is unwilling to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. He was forced to return home and work on a farm. Now, no one at the church organizes Mass. We chanted scripture and prayed at home to maintain our faith.”
“In the past, every Sunday, we used Catholic Little Helper to read Mass scripture passages. Now, the government has cut off even this avenue,” the believer continued helplessly. “The state is exerting stricter and stricter control.” Talking about the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican, the believer added: “The more the Pope concedes, the more insatiable the Chinese Communist Party’s appetite becomes.”
Some church members believe that the move to close down the app is one more of CCP’s attempts to force all underground Catholics to join the government-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church – a widely documented interpretation of the China-Vatican deal by the Chinese authorities.
Interestingly, while this and other applications about religion were blocked in China (including our own for Bitter Winter), a nation-wide campaign was launched to persuade all Chinese to download the app “Xi Study Strong Nation,” the use of which is mandatory for CCP members and which offers every day speeches and texts of President Xi Jinping. CCP members and government employees, as Bitter Winter documented, should use the application for a certain number of hours every day, or face serious consequences that may include losing their jobs.
A church member in Tangshan city pointed out the similarity between the authorities’ handling of the two apps and the Cultural Revolution: Mao Zedong was suppressing religion while demanding divine worship for himself.
Reported by Yang Xiangwen