Rome (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities this morning arrested Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), to prevent him from disseminating Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to Chinese Catholics and organising meetings in which the letter’s contents would be explained to the faithful.
AsiaNews sources confirmed that at 9 am this morning (Beijing time) policemen and members of the Religious Affairs Bureau picked up the prelate and took him to an undisclosed location.
The bishop, who is not recognised by government authorities, was preparing a pastoral letter and organising meetings for the faithful of his diocese in order to explain what the papal letter said.
Whilst expressing profound respect for China’s authorities, the Pontiff’s June 30 letter called for total religious freedom for the mainland’s Christian community, slamming any interference by political organisations in the internal life of the Church, explicitly singling out the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association or CPCA whose raison d’être is to establish a national Church separate from the Holy See.
The CPCA seal was placed on the entrance to Mgr Jia’s residence and to the building he and members of his congregation use for meetings, a clear sign that his arrest was “anti-papal” in intent.
Unlike the CPCA the Chinese government’s response has been quite muted. The CPCA has instead blocked sites that contain the letter and prohibited its dissemination. It also had some priests arrested and made their detention even harsher than usual. AsiaNews sources are aware of at least 11 priests arrested in various regions of China.
The diocese of Zhengding is about 270 kilometres south of Beijing with about 110,000 people affiliated with the underground Church.
Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, 73, has spent more than 15 years in prison. Since 1980, when he became an underground bishop, he has been subject to endless arrests and detention where he has been forced to undergo political (brainwashing) sessions so that he may bow to CPCA demands.
The last time he was arrested was on June 5 of this year, but was eventually released on the 22.