Beijing (AsiaNews) - Fr Joseph Lu Genjun, 52 (pictured), has been released after eight years of isolation and imprisonment. The priest, from the unofficial (underground) community of Baoding (Hebei), was arrested without trial in 2006 and taken to an unknown location. His refusal to join the Patriotic Association has led to frequent arrests and detentions in the past.
The first was April 5, 1990, the same year of his ordination, on Palm Sunday, for a short period. He was arrested a second time, before Easter in 2001 and remained for three years in the Gao Yang Provincial labor camp, Hebei. Shortly after his release he was arrested again May 14, 2004, for an unspecified period. Finally, in 2006, he was brought to several secret places. Most recently he was being held in the Communist Party School in Baoding.
Fr. Lu is very well known because he had been carrying out the functions of the episcopal vicar of the diocese, after two underground bishops, Msgr. James Su Zhimin and Francis An Shuxin were seized by the police in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
Later, in 2009, Msgr. An was persuaded to join the Patriotic Association. His choice created quite a stir and division in the Church of Baoding, considered a stronghold of the underground community and for this subjected to intense persecution.
AsiaNews sources say that it was Msgr. An's who made constant requests to the authorities for Fr. Lu's release without conditions (enrolment among official clergy, the Patriotic Association, etc. ..). Sources close to Msgr. An assert that Fr. Lu did not have to submit to any conditions or become a member of the Patriotic Association.
Since his release, on 9 August, Fr. Lu is a guest at Bishop An's home, near the Cathedral of Baoding.
The faithful are wondering whether the priest's release is linked to a change in the religious policy or a greater opening of President Xi Jinping. But some point out that Baoding's ordinary bishop, Msgr. Su, is still missing since his disappearance in police custody in 1996. They believe he is being kept in some unknown jail. Two priests, Fr. Liu Honggeng and Fr. Ma Wuyong are also in prison because, in obedience to the Pope, they refuse to join the Patriotic Association.
It is highly likely that the release of Fr. Lu is merely a gesture of friendship by the local government towards the person of Msgr. An Shuxin, who is much appreciated for his goodness.