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  • » 08/11/2005, 00.00


    WYD: The first time ever for China's underground Church

    Gao Qingnian

    More than 100 Chinese Catholics of the clandestine (unofficial) church have arrived in Cologne, overcoming difficulties posed by visa and controls. They tell of persecution but also of great vitality in evangelization.

    Rome (AsiaNews) – For the first time ever, Chinese youths from the underground Church will participate in the World Youth Day. Around 100 have managed to reach Cologne to attend the XX WYD. Among them are Catholic students already studying abroad and youths coming directly from the People's Republic of China. There are priests, sisters and lay people from a number of dioceses: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Fujian and Mongolia interior.

    Reaching Cologne has not been easy. In China, the government allows only freedom of worship linked to personnel and structures officially registered with the state Religious Affairs Office and controlled by the Patriotic Association. Believers who do not accept to be controlled by official structures and who practice their faith in structures which are not registered (unofficial, underground) risk punishment for "illegal" actions and "disturbance of public order".

    A youth from Shanghai explains: "The clandestine Church in China is persecuted. But the details of this persecution are little known abroad. For example, few know that the government at all levels (provincial, city, district or village) has drawn up diverse regulations – both secret and public – according to situations which arise.

    "One of these stipulates that the police should not issue a passport to a clandestine Catholic without the permission of the religious administration authority.' Since clandestine Catholics are not down on official lists, it is very difficult for us to go abroad to study, to go on pilgrimage or to attend the World Youth Day."

    The groups present in Cologne were not discouraged: they asked for their passports and visas months ago, using false ID cards and claiming they wished to go abroad for tourism.

    WYD organisers are happy with their attendance in Cologne; they started preparing a catechism program specifically for them as soon as they found out about it.

    "It is the first time China's clandestine Church manages to participate in the WYD," said one of the group leaders. "We want to exploit this occasion to get to know better our peers who live our same faith, to feel part of the universal Church and perhaps even to try to meet the Pope."

    Another from Tianjin said: "Our communities are very alive and active. Alas, because of government controls and out of fear of being discovered, we believers do not communicate information about the underground Church in China abroad. News only comes out when a bishop is arrested, a convent is closed or a church has been destroyed. Few know about the growing evangelization, or that vocations are on the rise. As a result of the limited information at hand, it has been difficult to draft statistics: for example, a 'Guide to the Catholic Church in China' published in 2004 claims a diocese in the north has only four priests. But this was the case 10 years ago. Now this diocese has at least 70 priests and 100 sisters, the fruit of evangelization and formation targeting youths."

    In recent days, a group of priests from China's official Church greeted the pope during the audience. Some episcopal appointments of the official Church have taken place with Vatican approval. "These are important signs," said an underground priest, "but we must remember that the government's religious policy has not yet changed. Many bishops and priests are still in prison. Among them, I want to recall the bishops Su Zhimin and An Shuxin of Baoding; Shi Enxiang, of Yixian; Han Dingxian, of Yongnian. There is a need for all the church to remember and to pray for them."

    Even youths from China's official Church will be there in Cologne. They also arrived in Europe with generic tourist visas and not in organized groups.

    In 1995, at the WYD in Manila, the official Church sent a group of its own priests and faithful. The presence of the flag of Taiwan, among others, created a political problem: the secretary of the Patriotic Association ordered all the faithful to leave the mass of Pope John Paul II because of the "offence taken". The majority of Catholics remained at the mass in hiding, disobeying the order.

    In China, collaboration and integration between the two branches – official and underground – of the Church are increasing steadily.

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    See also

    22/08/2005 CHINA – VATICAN – WYD
    From Cologne hopes for Church unity in China
    The Pope's presence and being together push official and underground Christians beyond World Youth Day to bear witness together. "We forgive the government which is suppressing us".

    31/03/2005 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.

    05/01/2006 CHINA - VATICAN
    Mgr Han Dingxian, underground bishop of Hebei, is missing

    This means there are now three "desaparecidos" bishops. And the eldest priest of Yongnian diocese was arrested in December.

    18/11/2005 CHINA - VATICAN
    10 seminarians and a priest of the underground Church arrested

    In the lead-up to the visit of Bush to China, the government is making a clean sweep. However a repression campaign targeting Catholics has been under way in Hebei for some time now.

    15/10/2005 CHINA
    Hanyang: Government hinders funeral of underground bishop

    Local authorities had given permission for public funeral rites, but not before they had undertaken an intimidation campaign by phone across the province.

    Although the government banned the use of the title "bishop" at the ceremony, a banner posted in the church, in view of government representatives, read: "Mgr Peter Zhang Bairen, unofficial bishop of Hanyang Diocese".

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