Campaign for liberation of 19 bishops and 18 priests arrested or kept from carrying out their ministry. Join the petition by writing to the National People's Congress and the Olympic Committee.
Rome (AsiaNews) -- AsiaNews, together with the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong and various Christian communities and web-sites in Europe, has decided to publish a list of Chinese bishops and priests who have vanished under detention or have been locked up in labour and re-education camps, or are otherwise kept from carrying out their ministry. These ecclesiastics are all part of the so-called underground Church, made up of Catholics who refuse the government's minute and asphyxiating control over religious activity, preferring to practise their faith outside of official and registered structures. They do so not to challenge the government, but to demand religious freedom which, even if only in theory, is guaranteed by China's constitution, as well as to maintain fidelity to the Pope, a bond which Beijing wants to undermine.
Among those listed below are 6 bishops, of ages varying from 50 to 83, who have been arrested and have since disappeared into the hands of police. Those who have been in detention longest are two Boading bishops: Monsignor James Su Zhimin, ordinary, and Monsignor Francis An Shuxin, auxiliary, arrested in 1996 and 1997. Despite pressure exerted by various international figures, the government has always remained silent about them, leaving us to fear the worst.
A list of 13 other bishops follow: while not having been officially arrested, they are all under de facto house arrest. They are constantly kept under tight surveillance and cannot exercise their ministry in public or receive visits from the faithful and their priests. Most of them are around 80 years of age. Yet the government subjects them to continuous checks, indoctrination sessions, and attempts at brain-washing, without any concern for their age or illnesses. None of them has ever committed any crime: they are neither terrorists, nor guerrillas, nor extremists. Many of them, like Bishop Jia Zhiguo, are famous for their charity and generosity in caring, at their own expense, for hundreds of abandoned children. Their only "crime" is to have refused to register with the Patriotic Association, the organization set up by the government to control the Church which, as part of its agenda, still aims to establish a separate Church from the Pope.
There is also a list of 18 priests, some who have disappeared under detention; others who have been condemned to 3 or more years of labour camp. They have been convicted of such things as evangelising; participating in an ordination mass; annointing the sick; leading a spiritual retreat. AsiaNews has not been able to obtain recent news on several of them, such as their whereabouts or the state of their health. It could even be that some of them have finished serving their sentence. But this does not mean that they are free: the silence and difficulties imposed by the Chinese government on these matters is such that we fear these lists are not exhaustive.
We have decided to publish these lists because we are approaching Easter, which is the celebration of Jesus Christ's victory over death. Just seeing this list and praying for these martyrs comforts us: they are suffering in places such as Hebei, Zhejiang, Fujian, Henan, where a remarkable religious renaissance is underway and more and more people are converting to Christianity. They are the sign that "the word of God," as Saint Paul said, "cannot be chained." At the same time, as Christians, we cannot but share -- at least in prayer and through communication --in their chains.
We decided to publish this today, to coincide with the opening of the National People's Congress since, in this period, there are many Chinese who try to reach NPC delegates in Tiananmen Square to hand petitions over to them, report injustices, request help. This list is our petition to the almost 3,000 delegates to the NPC, calling on them to free these bishops and priests, and to allow the people of China to enjoy full freedom of religioun.
For a China that is experiencing great economic success, as also for international investors, religious freedom seems to be an unimportant footnote. Instead it is the solid foundation on which China can build a balanced development that respects people and society. Today in China, people die in factories from exploitation, in mines from the lack of safety and in the fields from hunger and desperation. While foreign governments and entrepreneurs hail China as "the centre of gravity of the world's economy," society continues to be shaken by tensions between police and the unemployed, between politics and villages. Only a China where people are free to express their faith can find the way to affirm human dignity and social solidarity.
In 2008, Beijing will host the Olympic Games. Many people in the world would like to penalize China for violating human rights. For the moment, we prefer to send this list of bishops and priests to the National People's Congress and to the Olympic Committee to ask that the event be prepared also through the freeing of these martyrs of faith. What Games would they be if behind the brand new sports facilities there were jails with people unjustly imprisoned in them?
We ask all those who wish to adhere to this campaign to send a message, even just a brief one, along with the list published here, by e-mail or fax, to the following:
National People's Congress
International Olympic Committee
Beijing: President Qi Liu
Lausanne: President Jacques Rogge
Address: International Olympic Committe
Château de Vidy
1007 Lausanne, Switzerland
To the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in your country -- for readers in Italy, the address is:
Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Italy
Via Bruxelles, 56
00198 Rome RM
Tel: +39-06-841-3458Fax +39-06-8535-2891