Xuanhua worshipers call for the return of their priest kidnapped by security forces
by Wang Zhicheng

In Lanzhou another priest forcibly taken away. A church destroyed in Xiangtao (Hubei). Underground priests do not feel safe: they can disappear at any time. The faithful are holding a sit-in from this morning in front of the local government office.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Since 8 am this morning  the faithful of Xuanhua (Hebei) have been holding a sit-in at the entrance to the local government building to demand the safe return of Fr. Paul Zhang Guangjun (photo 1), kidnapped yesterday by national security agents.

Fr. Zhang, 49, is an unofficial priest of the diocese, who does not agree to join the Patriotic Association (PA), the controlling body of the Chinese Catholic Church. Because of this, Fr. Zhang was beaten and injured by members of the United Front.

In the diocese of Lanzhou (Gansu) another unofficial priest, Fr. Hong Wanxi (photo 3), 60, was forcibly taken to his home village by the United Front, having also refused to join the PA.

Yesterday, a group of strangers stopped the car of Fr. Zhang smashed the glass of the window (photo 2) and started beating the priest. Another person, a man, who was with the priest was taken, thrown out and wildly beaten, leaving him with fractures.

According to reports of the faithful, the two thought that the group was some gang of criminals and they resisted. Then the thugs revealed they worked for public security. They took the priest, threw him to the ground and then dragged him into their car and took him away.

Fr. Zhang is an underground priest of Xuanhua, a diocese recognized by the Vatican, but absorbed into the official diocese of Zhangjiakou, where underground priests are being head hunted to force them to pass into the official church, by joining the PA. The faithful are worried and afraid because their priests are not safe and risk disappearing in the hands of the police at any time.

Fifteen days ago, while Fr. Zhang was celebrating Mass in the house of one of the faithful, the police raided it. The operation ended quietly and without violence. Several years ago, Fr. Zhang was beaten by a group of people from the United Front, the body that oversees religious affairs. Even then he was asked to register with the PA and he was beaten when he refused.

Also yesterday, Fr. Hong Wanxi, a priest from Shandan County (Lanzhou, Gansu), was forced to leave his Church and forcibly moved to his home town. The reason is always the same: refusal to join the PA and to be part of the official diocese of Shijiazhuang. At least 10 people, including policemen and members of the United Front and the Religious Affairs Office, took him, put him in the car and dragged him away.

Meanwhile, news has arrived that last April 12, in Hubei, a Catholic church was destroyed: It was Xutang, in Xiangtao (photo 4)