Fathers Liu and Luo belong to a group of seven priests banned by the authorities. At the end of January and in early February, the group organised two camps for some 300 university students from their diocese. According to the Religious Affairs Ministry, such events are banned under existing laws because they must be held under the supervision of the government and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Security forces visited the camp, held near the church of Saiqi, and uttered threats at priests and participants, ordering them to stop the meeting. The priests instead continued the camp and encouraged the students to do the same. A month later, Fr Luo was arrested.
Speaking to AsiaNews, he had said earlier that he was “willing to go to prison,” that he had “nothing to fear,” and that he was “proud to be a Catholic priest, eager to profess his faith through actions.” He added, “I would be happy to serve as a witness to Christ and follow the example of so many holy martyrs.”
Two other priests, Fathers Guo Xijin and Miu Yong received a notice of detention and expect to be taken into custody in the near future.
All seven priests involved in the matter were fined 500 yuan (US$ 75).
Fr Luo spoke to UCAN about his detention. He said he was kept in a 40 m2 room for five days with 21 other men, mostly drug addicts and gamblers. Inmates slept on cement blocks or on the floor. There was no bathroom and people could only wash themselves with cold water in a small courtyard. While his fellow prisoners could receive visitors twice a week, he said he was denied that right.
Under existing laws, anyone who is involved in religious activities outside government-controlled institutions is deemed a “criminal”.
Catholics in Mindong diocese are almost all members of the underground Church. Out of 80,000 people, some 70,000 belong to the latter. They are well organised with more than 50 priests, 96 nuns and 400 lay catechists. Their bishop is Huang Shoucheng, 86. Mindong also has a patriotic bishop, Mgr Zhan Silu, but he has few followers.
The underground Church has been persecuted because it has refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a Communist Party organisation designed to control the activities of the Church in order to set up a Church that is independent of the Holy See.
Sources told AsiaNews that ten underground priests are currently in prison or forced labour camps. Most underground bishops are prevented from performing their ministry; three have actually been missing for years, in police custody at an unknown location.
The first is 75-year-old Mgr James Su Zhimin (Baoding diocese, Hebei). After his arrest in 1996, his whereabouts remain unknown. He was sighted once in November 2003 when he spent a few days at a Baoding hospital, under a police escort, treated for heart and eye ailments.
The second is 86-year-old Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang (Yixian diocese, Hebei) who was arrested on 13 April 2001. He has not been heard ever since. Appointed bishop in 1982, he spent a total of 30 years in prison. His previous arrest dates back to December 1990. He was eventually let go in 1993 but had to live in isolation until his latest arrest.
The third one is Julius Jia Zhiguo, 74, bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), who was seized on 30 March 2010 during a meeting with members of a Vatican commission. At the end of that visit, the Vatican issued a statement calling for his release (see Bernardo Cervellera, “Police arrest underground Zhengding bishop Jia Zhiguo”, in AsiaNews, 31 March 2009, and ibid, “Vatican's "sadness" over arrest of Bishop Jia Zhiguo. The Church and formation,” in AsiaNews, 2 April 2009).
Currently, the Commission on the Church in China is meeting in plenary session at the Vatican to discuss the education and training of Chinese Catholics, especially priests and women religious.