Rome (AsiaNews) While wishing the pope a speedy recovery and getting ready to express condolences for the death of John Paul II, the Chinese government launched a new wave of arrests of underground Catholics. Only yesterday, the spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Lui Jianchao, expressed condolences for the death of the pope in a statement to the Xinhua news agency. He also reiterated political pre-conditions for a resumption of relations with the Vatican: severing diplomatic links with Taiwan and not interfering in China's internal religious affairs.
The government allows freedom of worship only in places and with individuals registered with the State Office for Religious Affairs, in the so-called "official Church". The unofficial or underground church is considered illegal.
Almost as if to reinforce the notion of internal management of the life of the church, on 1 April, Fr Wang Jinling of Zhangjiakou (Hebei) was taken away by the police; on 31 March, Mgr Yao Liang, auxiliary bishop of Xiwanzi (Hebei) was arrested. The Chinese government has also stepped up surveillance of other underground bishops, including Mgr Hao Kingli, bishop of Xiwanzi and Mgr Julius Jiazhiguo, bishop of Zhengding. On 2 April, the Vatican again denounced unwarranted arrests and detentions.
The latest arrests, recorded by the Kung Foundation, are totally injustified. Those arrested are all elderly, over 80 years, and all belong to the underground Church, which refutes state control of the Christian community and which refuses to adhere to the Patriotic Association, the Communist Party's control body, which has been trying to set up a Church independent from Rome for nearly 50 years now.
The increase in arrests and control checks seem to be caused by government fears that the pope's death held to be imminent already days ago could lead to gestures of defiance against Peking related to freedom of worship.
Meanwhile, the Patriotic Association yesterday sent a message to all China's secretaries with instructions to organize masses for the deceased pope in churches.
Today in Peking, requiem masses were celebrated in all four churches of the city. In all churches, there are photos of the pope and flowers near the altar. For some time now, the government has allowed prayers for the pope, but it does not concede that the Vatican may appoint Chinese bishops.
The news of the pope's death has spread through the underground Church too. In many homes, prayer and fasting are taking place for the eternal rest of John Paul II. One priest said "the pope knew communism and always helped us and encouraged us to live our faith and to be courageous in the face of persecution."