Authorities are harassing underground Catholic churches in the Diocese of Yujiang, intimidating believers into joining the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Bitter Winter has recently reported that underground Catholic meeting venues in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, in the southeastern coastal province of Fujian, have been suppressed by the authorities and even shut down. Members of the Underground Catholic Church in the central province of Jiangxi face the same predicament, suffering frequent coercion and harassment at the hands of authorities. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interprets the Vatican-China deal of 2018 to the effect that priests and devotees should simply join the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), or face persecution if they refuse.
Over in the Diocese of Yujiang, the Church of the Annunciation is the only underground Catholic church in Nanfeng county, having been built with the 800,000 RMB (about $115,800) received in donations by believers. But the underground church has managed to catch the attention of government officials from Nanfeng county’s Religious Affairs Bureau and Father Zhang from the CPCA. On August 12, seven or eight police officers stormed into the church and pressured believers to register their identity information and join the CPCA, but the believers refused.
“If you sign (to join the CPCA), the church will remain. If you don’t sign, the church will be demolished,” one police officer threatened.
This church has been subjected to repeated harassment in the past. In mid-April, more than 20 government officials from the county’s Religious Affairs Bureau and United Front Work Department raided the church and repeated the party line: “If you don’t register and join the Patriotic Catholic Association, (the church) is illegal! If you don’t sign, you will be captured and imprisoned.”
The officials forcibly photographed the believers and registered their cell phone numbers.
Due to the authorities’ repeated harassment and threats, the believers were unable to hold gatherings as usual. To protect the church, the believers shut it down and went to the mountain behind the village to conduct Sunday worship. But then, again, they were discovered by the local government and persecuted.
On August 15, believers were worshipping on the mountain when the director of the county’s Religious Affairs Bureau showed up, photographed the believers and told them they weren’t allowed to hold their gatherings there. Unless, of course, they joined the CPCA. If not, the mountain would be sealed off. But worse, the local government issued a notice saying that if the believers didn’t agree to join the CPCA, their church would be seized within seven days and, to top it off, the believers’ children would have their schooling restricted.
That forced some believers to sign.
One member of the church revealed that the authorities had blacklisted the church’s priest due to his refusal to join the CPCA. He has also been designated as the primary target of the authorities’ campaign to “clean up gang crime and eliminate evil” – a nationwide initiative, launched in January 2018 and promoted as a tool to fight organized crime, but is yet one more campaign targeting religious believers. He is at risk of being arrested at any time.
According to sources, in late September, an underground church meeting venue in Rongshan town in the Diocese of Yujiang was harassed and shut down by the local police. In addition, in July, a class (with students ranging in age from 9-to-13-years-old) at an underground Catholic church in the diocese’s Qiuxi town was also forced to dissolve after being persecuted by the authorities.
When shutting down the students’ class, one police officer said: “You’re the successors of the Communist Party. You shouldn’t learn the truth of God or be the successors of God.”
In the Diocese of Yujiang, underground Bishop (Thomas) Zeng Jingmu was arrested multiple times by authorities for refusing to join the CPCA and spent up to 30 years in prison. As Bitter Winter reported previously, it is suspected that Bishop Zeng Jingmu was persecuted to death by the CCP on April 2, 2016. Two years later, the diocese’s sole underground Catholic church was illegally seized by the authorities. To escape the authorities’ suppression, believers who are unwilling to join the CPCA have no choice but to organize their gatherings in “guerrilla warfare” mode and hold on dearly to their beliefs, even in this violent environment.
Reported by Lin Yijiang