(China—May 12, 2022) Baoding, Hebei is one of the most flourished dioceses for unofficial Catholicism, and it is also the most taboo parish for the Chinese Communist Party. In the past four months, ten priests from the unofficial Church in Baoding have forcibly disappeared one after another.
According to Asia News, from January 2022 until recently, at least ten priests from the unofficial (loyal to the Holy See) faith community of Baoding Diocese (Hebei Province) have forcibly disappeared. Four of them were taken away by the police in the Baoding area, and the outside world has not received any news about them.
Among the ten priests who were forcibly disappeared: Fr. Chen Hechao, who was taken away by officials in January; Fr. Ji Fuhou, Fr. Ma Ligang, Fr. Yang Guanglin, and Fr. Shang Mancang, who were taken away between March and April. Fr. Yang Jianwei and Fr. Zhang Chunguang were both arrested in Xushui, Baoding, at around 4 pm on April 29. Family, relatives, and friends tried their best to search for their whereabouts, but the authorities did not disclose any information about them. Fr. Zhang Zhenquan was arrested at Xushuizheng Village from 2 to 3 pm on the same day. Fr. Yin Shuangxi was taken away in Xushui around 4 pm on the same day. Fr. Zhang Shouxin was in Baoding when he was taken away.
According to sources, priests and parishioners in the diocese of Baoding are praying for them and actively inquiring about their whereabouts. Many family members of the priests incommunicado have sought information about the situation with the police officers of their villages or tried to establish communication channels to no avail. The faithful are concerned that something may have “happened” to the priests. Some priests and bishops who were taken away in the past were later found in critical condition or dead.
At present, several priests in the Baoding diocese expressed concern for their personal freedom and fear that they would be met with the same fate.
The underground group of believers in Baoding is one of the oldest and largest churches in China. Bishop James Su Zhimin, the bishop of this diocese, has been detained for at least 25 years, and Fr. Liu Honggeng has been detained by the Chinese government for seven years. Bishop Francis An Shuxin spent decades in prison.
The Chinese Communist government’s detention of priests is called “supervision.” According to Chinese laws and regulations, “supervision” can last up to three years without the need to bring charges. “Supervised detentions” do not happen in physical prisons and are designed to restrict their movements and activities, force those in “supervision” to participate in political studies, and the goal is for them to join the state-controlled Church and be required to obey the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
In recent years, the Chinese government has maintained the magnitude of its crackdown on underground churches. During Easter this year, Catholic bishops and priests were forcibly disappeared one after another in Zhejiang province and Hebei province. Insiders with knowledge of the phenomenon of organizational disappearances in recent times speculated that the recent forcible disappearances are related to the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and China. The Agreement, which involves the appointment of new bishops, is used by the Chinese government and the United Front Work Department as a “basis” to prove that the Holy See agrees with the Communist Party’s line of control and management over the Church. Since the signing of the Agreement, the United Front Work Department has been forcing all unofficial priests to register and “convert” to official church members and loyalty to the party leadership. Those who disagree with the Chinese government’s approach will be deported from their parish or community and placed in “supervised detention” without an official charge.
The signing of the Holy See and China’s provisional Agreement did not bring about the better treatment of Catholic Clergy members that the Holy See had initially expected Beijing to do so. The Hebei case shows that Beijing has intensified its collective siege against the priests of the Baoding diocese. Beijing has not at all respected the Holy See’s request to Beijing to protect the clergy. It is still unclear what the intention of the Chinese authorities was for collectively arresting the bishops of the Baoding Diocese; or whether it may become a means for Beijing to put pressure on the Holy See and be used as leverage in the behind-the-scenes negotiations. The Agreement between the two parties is becoming less and less relevant as we think about the faithfulness of the priests in Baoding to God, who have become living witnesses of Jesus.
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid
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