03/31/2005, 00.00
China - Vatican

Underground Catholic priest arrested

Measures against the unofficial Church increasing.  Conversions and baptisms also increasing.  At Easter all Catholics prayed for the Pope's health.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Father Zhao Kexun, age 75, a priest of the non-official Church of Xuanhua (Hebei) was arrested yesterday by police.  According to the Kung Foundation, which reported the news, the priest was stopped and taken away by public security agents on his way home after having celebrated Mass in a private home in Zhajiazhuang.  A woman accompanying Fr Zhao was also arrested, but was released soon after.

The Chinese government allows religious freedom only to those registered with the government's Religious Affairs Bureau and in places authorized and constantly monitored by that same bureau.  On the basis of new laws on religious freedom passed on March 1st, priests and members of the faithful who gather in private homes or otherwise outside the bounds of state control are considered outlaws and are pursued as delinquents or conspirators against public order.

In the mid-90s, Beijing launched a full-blown and on-going campaign to eradicate underground communities of all religions and in particular Catholic communities, guilty of having ties with the Pope and the Vatican, considered to be a "foreign power"

According to AsiaNews data, there are currently 18 bishops and 20 priests who have disappeared into the hands of police, are in isolation, or are prevented from exercising their ministry.  In mid-March, this agency launched a campaign calling for their liberation.

At least 8 million people in China refer to the underground Church.  According to government figures, 4 million Catholics belong to the official Church.

AsiaNews sources say that the government is concerned about the huge wave of religious sentiment.

Each year in the country at least 150,000 adults convert to Catholicism, whether through the official or underground Church.  This year, during the Easter Vigil at the Church of the Saint Saviour (Bei Tang) in Beijing, 48 adults were baptized.  In cities across China, the celebrations of the Easter Triduum were attended by large numbers of faithful, but also by thousands of young, non-Catholic people in search of faith.

In every gathering, the faithful prayed for the Pope, for his health and for his suffering.  Many priests asked worshippers to dedicate each day a few minutes of Eucharistic adoration to the Pope and his mission.

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