Authorities in some cities of Hebei Province implemented special campaigns earlier this year to crack down on churches that are not part of the government-controlled Catholic organization, closing down places of worship and arresting members of the clergy.
The northern province of Hebei has the largest Catholic community in China, which is being severely persecuted by the authorities. Despite expectations, the provisional Vatican-China agreement of September 22 has not alleviated the hardships of Catholics in the province. As per the latest reports, four priests were arrested for refusing to join the government-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and crackdown operations are implemented against underground churches.
According to a document issued by the Propaganda Department in Hebei’s Handan city, a three-month campaign targeting underground churches was launched in mid-July. Aiming to “improve religious governance,” the document calls to control the development of underground Catholicism and Christianity fully.
The document also requires that the authorities in all districts, towns, and villages strengthened intelligence efforts by collecting information that would assist in combating religious belief. Each government department was instructed to conduct in-depth investigations of religious activities under their jurisdiction, oppose foreign religious groups, and enhance education and “transformation work” with members of the underground Catholic Church.
Shortly after the document was issued, authorities in one of the towns in Handan summoned the leaders of all churches who were informed that no religious activities were allowed to be organized in their places of worship. The refusal to obey purported violating the law. Besides, the clergy were forbidden from preaching outside the province without special permission.
Other cities in the province have also implemented similar crackdown campaigns. According to a member of an underground church in Xingtai city, the local Religious Affairs Bureau attempted on several occasions to force his church’s priest to join the government-controlled Patriotic Catholic Association. Since he refused, two local police officers stormed into the church during a mass in September seeking to arrest the priest. He managed to escape with the help of church members; however, the authorities closed down the church shortly afterward.
According to members of the congregation of an underground church in Gaocheng district of Shijiazhuang city, their priest has also been pressured to join the Patriotic Association. On the last day of summer, local officials, accompanied by police officers, came to the church and ordered the priest to go to the Religious Affairs Bureau to process documentation to become a member of the government-approved Catholic Church. Otherwise, the church would be shut down, and he would lose his preaching qualifications.