Rome (AsiaNews) In a new wave of arrests against the unofficial Catholic Church in Baoding Diocese police arrested 8 priests and 2 seminarians who had gathered for a spiritual retreat. They were taken into custody at around 6 p.m. on August 6 in the village of Sujiazhuang, Quyang County, Hebei province (about 200 km south-west of Beijing).
Father Huo Junlong, administrator of the Diocese of Baoding, Father Zhang Zhenqian of Baoding, and Father Huang of Sujiazhuang were among those arrested. The names of the other are still not known.
According to the Kung Foundation, which released the information about the police raid, 20 police vehicles and a large number of police officers surrounded the village and launched a house to house search for the priests and the seminarians. The operation was so quick that few people in the village realised what was going on before it was over. Those arrested are now detained in the Baoding Security Bureau.
Hebei province is located south-west of the capital Beijing and has the largest concentration of Catholics in the country: at least 1.5 million. The Diocese of Baoding has had a large unofficial Catholic community for a long time.
Mgr. James Su Zhimin, the 72-year-old Bishop of Baoding, and Mgr. Francis AN Shuxin, the 54-year-old Auxiliary Bishop, disappeared in police custody 7 and 8 years ago respectively. It is feared that they might have been killed. Their predecessor Mgr. Joseph Fan Xueyan was killed in prison, tortured.
Under Chinese law religion can be practiced only in places registered with the State Administration of Religious Affairs. Private gatherings are considered illegal and those who participate, outlaws.
Since 1997 the Chinese authorities have been pursuing an eradication campaign against underground religious communities. Priests and believers have been jailed for refusing to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) which is under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.
More recently 3 bishops have been arrested and subjected to interrogations and sessions of political indoctrination to force them to join the CCPA.
The Vatican has officially protested against the latest arrest of clergymen calling it an "act that would be inadmissible . . . in a country governed by the rule of law."
The director of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs Ye Xiaowen, currently visiting Finland, has denied that religious persecution is taking place in his country.