07/01/2007, 00.00
CHINA – VATICAN
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Too much atheism and interference from the state, says Mgr Jia Zhiguo

by Lin Deshi
The underground bishop of Zhengding, freed eight days ago after 17 in a jail, is both hopeful and pessimistic about what the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics might do. The prelate, who has spent more than 20 years in a labour camp, believes that the Chinese government has not changed. “It uses the same strategy as during Mao’s times” and relies on the Patriotic Association to split the Church. But for the Church itself the Pope’s letter is an important sign of what direction to follow.

Zhengding (AsiaNews) – Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, a 73-year-old who spent more than 20 years in prison, is the underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), the Chinese province where anti-Catholic persecution is strongest. He lives in isolation and is constantly detained by the police for political (brainwashing) sessions designed to force him to submit to the Patriotic Association, the government agency whose ultimate goals is to set up a Church independent of the Holy See. The last time Mgr Jia was seized was June 5 but was let go on June 22. Overcoming his isolation, AsiaNews was able to ask him some questions about the Pope’s letter which he was actually reading when he was contacted.

Your Excellency, what influence will the Pope’s letter have on Church-state relations?

I fear we should not expect too much from it. China’s politicians have not changed at all. The government uses the same strategy as during Mao’s times and just instigates and creates conflicts within the Church.

This has been going on for 50 years (since the creation of the Patriotic Association or PA) and I am afraid that the Pope’s letter won’t change much to the situation.

Of course the letter clearly states what the Church’s teachings are and for those who seek the truth it is greatly encouraging. But for the many atheists among the politicians this does not mean anything. They won’t change their ideas because of any statement. What is necessary is for the government to make a profound change in mentality and allow for greater openness and religious freedom.

What do you think about the relationship between the Church and the Patriotic Association after the Pope condemned it in his letter?

The Patriotic Association is a tool in the government’s hands. Its interference won’t stop until the government says so. The problem is that the PA cannot decide for itself. It is not independent but is at the service of the government, under its control. It is not easy to break those chains. I think that without the Lord’s intervention the situation cannot improve. We don’t believe that the Lord always works within His Church.

Will the letter improve relations between the official and underground Church?

For those who live in truth and justice and are faithful to their faith, this letter will be the right push towards unity. The real problem is how to overcome the pressures that come from the state. Various official bishops are afraid to actively communicate with underground bishops. Courage is often found wanting because they too are under strict control. Their phones are always tapped by the government for example. Even if they are government-approved, there is not much they can do—they can’t do what they want.

But for us underground bishops, who are not recognised by the government, communications are a problem. It is almost impossible to do it directly. I live under constant controls. But for them controls are event greater. We might get in touch indirectly, through intermediaries. But we know that no one “wants to create difficulties” for the government.

The Pope’s letter urges Catholics to live the mission in China with courage . . . ?

I have not yet finished reading the letter, but I think for the more resolute Catholics, it offers a clear-cut path. On this issue, Benedict XVI’s teachings are aligned with those of John Paul II. We shall have to carry out our ministry and mission from within the communion. With the Lord’s encouragement and the Pope’s guidance, I shall continue my mission without fear. The journey we have undertaken so far is the right one. And we shall continue. The Pope’s support helps us go as far as we have to, even if it might mean sacrificing our lives.

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Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, who wanted to disseminate the Pope’s letter, is arrested
23/08/2007
Mgr Jia Zhiguo freed, still under surveillance day and night
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Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo released in Hebei
22/07/2005
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Mgr Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding, released after 10 months
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