Rome (AsiaNews) - Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, the underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), was arrested yesterday by police and taken away to an undisclosed location. The arrest took place in conjunction with the meeting at the Vatican of the Plenary Commission on the Church in China.
Yesterday afternoon at four o'clock (local time), 5 police officers and two vehicles appeared outside the bishop's home and took him to an undisclosed location. Bishop Jia, 74, suffers from various disturbances because of past imprisonments and his age, and the faithful of the diocese are concerned that this new arrest could endanger his life.
For years, Jia has endured arrest and isolation by the police, who have kept him away from his community for months. During these periods, the police have tried to indoctrinate him on the religious policies of the Party, and to force him to join the Patriotic Association (PA).
This time, the motives are even more serious, and strike at the heart of the Vatican's attempts to reconcile the official and underground Church in Hebei, the region with the highest concentration of Catholics.
Months ago, Jang Taoran, the bishop of Shijiazhuang (Hebei), the diocese of the official Church in the area, reconciled with the Holy See, and agreed - at instructions from the Vatican - to work with Bishop Jia Zhiguo, becoming his auxiliary bishop. Bishop Jia would become, instead, the ordinary bishop of the diocese, while remaining in the underground Church and without the recognition of the government.
The two bishops have met frequently, and have begun to construct a common pastoral plan. But as soon as the Patriotic Association became aware of these signs of reconciliation, it required the bishops to stop meeting together, and put them under police surveillance 24 hours a day. According to some local sources, the police told Bishop Jia Zhiguo that "this unity [editor's note: between the two bishops] is bad because it is desired by a foreign power like the Vatican. If there must be unity, it must come through the government and the PA." When Bishop Jia resisted joining the PA, the police began to laugh at the bishop, saying that the government will put another bishop in his place, and that for him "it is time to retire, since he is sick."
The meeting of the Vatican Commission on the Church in China, which will continue until tomorrow, was intended to address the issues involved in the implementation of the pope's letter to Chinese Catholics, which was published in June of 2007. In it, Benedict XVI had urged the official Church and the underground Church to foster reconciliation, and had called the ideals and the structure of the Patriotic Association "incompatible" with the Catholic faith, because it intends to create a national Church independent from the Holy See.
On the current situation of persecution of the Church in China, cf. also: AsiaNews.it, 30/03/2009 Persecution in China as Vatican meeting on China opens.