No news about five underground priests arrested in Inner Mongolia
by Wang Zhicheng
One of those arrested is the diocesan manager; another is the principal of the underground seminary. Until recently, local Catholics had been left alone, tolerated by police. Arrests are connected to China’s fear of a domestic ‘Arab spring’.
Beijing (AsiaNews/EDA) – Nothing is known of the fate of five underground priests arrested last Monday. Believers now fear renewed persecution. The five are Fr Joseph Zhang, diocesan manager, Fr Joseph Ban, principal of the underground seminary, and three parish priests, Frs Ding, Wang and Zhao.

Local sources said the five were meeting at a private home to discuss pastoral work. At least 30 police agents stormed the place and took the priests away. The authorities have not given any reasons for the arrest.

The underground community in Suiyuan is stunned by the turn of events. Hitherto, theirs was a quiet community. Even though underground places of worship are against the law, local police authorities used to turn a blind eye as long as things were not too visible. In fact, some 30 underground priests have been able to evangelise in the area without the authorities interfering, discretely meeting in small groups in private homes.

The decision to arrest the priests is an attempt to boost control in order to snuff out Christian groups and communities. Chinese authorities are increasingly watchful, fearing a homegrown ‘Arab spring’ fuelled by the country’s increasing economic difficulties, such as rising inflation, employment and plant closures.

Suiyuan diocese covers a vast area in central and southeastern Inner Mongolia. Until 2002, it had a bishop, Mgr Joseph Li Congzhe. After his death at 82, one of the arrested priests, Fr Joseph Zhang, became diocesan manager. However, for the Chinese authorities the diocese does not exist any more.

Since the start of the 1980s, the government redrew diocesan boundaries so they would correspond to provincial divisions. Hence, Suiyuan was annexed by the provincial capital Hohhot.

Hohhot’s official bishop is Mgr Paul Meng Qinglu, 47, recognised by both the Holy See and the Chinese government.