02/24/2012, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Inner Mongolia: campaign of persecution against underground Church

by Wang Zhicheng
After a series of arrests of priests, the 30 thousand faithful cannot attend church. The seminary was closed and students forced to go home. Priests forced by police to attend concelebrations with the official bishop, in an ambiguous situation. The offensive against the Church is also part of security crackdown ahead of the National Assembly of the people to block any possible social unrest.

 

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Chinese police have launched a bitter campaign of persecution against underground Catholic communities in Inner Mongolia. Within weeks, several priests were arrested, others have had to hide to avoid being captured, dozens of communities throughout the territory have no opportunity to participate in the sacraments, and many priests are forced to undergo brainwashing sessions on religious policy, while the seminary has been closed. According to AsiaNews sources in the region, the escalation is due to the general political situation, in an attempt to ensure security ahead of the first important meeting of the National Assembly, scheduled for March 5 next, during which the succession to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, respectively president and prime minister will be decided. But there are also conflicts within the community, linked to the ambiguity of the official bishop, Msgr. Paul Meng Qinglu, approved by the Holy See, but vice-president of the Patriotic Assembly, an organization deemed "to be incompatible with Catholic doctrine."

The underground Catholic community of the Diocese of Suiyuan (Inner Mongolia) counts about 30 thousand faithful with 35 priests and 90 nuns. For a long time, almost 20 years, the community flourished thanks to the general disinterest of the authorities who placed no obstacles as long as the faithful met discreetly in private homes or small buildings.

On 30 January, six priests were arrested at a rally (see 02/02/2012: No news about five underground priests arrested in Inner Mongolia). Among them the rector of the underground seminary, Fr. Joseph Ban Zhanxiong, whose seminary was closed on February 14. All students were forced to return home.

On 31 January the diocesan administrator, Fr. Gao Jiangping, was arrested along with another priest.

The nearly 30 priests who remained free have all gone into hiding to avoid being imprisoned. Since last Sunday, February 19, the faithful have not able to participate in any celebration to avoid the priests being forced from their hiding, given the large presence of security forces.

Meanwhile, four of the priests arrested Jan. 30, were released, but they are forced every day to report to the police and are subjected to indoctrination sessions on the religious policy of the government, akin to brainwashing.

They were also forced to concelebrate a Mass in the presence of the official bishop of Hohhot, Msgr. Meng, and two other priests of the official community. Sources told AsiaNews that the two priests were dragged to concelebrate against their will, "and were physically present, but not praying, not even moving a finger."

The underground community and the Diocese of Suiyuan does not exist according to Chinese government: on the orders of political authorities, its ecclesiastical territory was absorbed by the diocese of Hohhot in the 1980s. The official community consists of about 2 thousand faithful since April 2010 and has a bishop, Msgr. Paul Meng Qinglu, recognized by the government and the Holy See. At his ordination, Msgr. Meng had hoped for a reconciliation with the underground community. But he later participated in the illicit ordination in Chengde (see 20/11/2010 Chengde, eight bishops in communion with Pope participate in illicit ordination) and was appointed vice-president of the Patriotic National (09/12 / 2010 Assembly elects new leadership, causing major harm to the Church). So far it is unclear if after all these gestures he has asked for forgiveness and to be reconciled with the Holy See.

Given the ambiguity of his position, many underground priests prefer not to join the official community and ask questions of the Vatican, which on the one hand, states that the Patriotic Association is "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine (because it wants to build a Church independent of Rome), while on the other, the Holy See accepts the compromise that a bishop linked to the pope participate, moreover in a position of great responsibility, in the same organism.

Some priests of Inner Mongolia say Msgr. Meng is increasingly becoming "political" and following  the directions of the Patriotic Association. For others, however, is the government who wants to wipe put the underground community to have a greater control over the entire situation.

The need for greater control is derived from two facts. At the provincial level, last year in Inner Mongolia riots have broken out led by shepherds against mining policy of the government, which pollutes and destroys the land and pastures. Nationally, there is the need for total control for the upcoming meeting of the National Assembly to be held in Beijing in early March. On this occasion, the succession to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao should be clear, with the passing of the baton to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Because of this, the regime is cracking down on dissidents, stifling riots, destroying the resistance in Tibet and Xinjiang. And those who also pay are the Catholics (and Protestants) of Inner Mongolia.

 

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