Hebei, Christians labelled ‘spreaders’. The return of Nero
by Shan Ren Shen Fu (山人神父)

Foreign faithful and missionaries are singled out as the source of the new Covid-19 epidemic in Hebei. In reality, the accused villages have no Christians and the Church's religious activities have been blocked since Christmas Eve. Like Nero, looking for a scapegoat. The result: churches closed down in the name of prevention.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Strange and anonymous messages that have appeared on social media blame Christians and foreign missionaries from Gaocheng (Shijianzhuang) for being the source of the new Covid epidemic in Hebei. The fake news was denounced by the priests of the provincial capital, who pointed out that there have been no religious activities, masses, or meetings since Christmas Eve. Blogger priest Shanren Shenfu, maintains the rumour mongering recalls the move of the emperor Nero, who blamed Christians for the fire of Rome (instead set on his command) to vent the anger of the people. Hebei Christians are innocent, but the Patriotic Association has closed all the recently reopened churches in the name of precaution against the pandemic.

At about 2 pm a member of my parish asked me: "Father, there is a post that reads: the village of Xiao Guozhuang, near Gaocheng is a Catholic village; 20 days ago, there was religious activity here, there were several priests from Europe and the United States ... ". "Is this news reliable?"

I didn’t really understand the question put on the spot so I asked: "What happened?". Through the screen I felt his fear, because he was afraid that "this news studied and analysed by the experts" could become a fact.

It was the first time I had heard of it; it was the first time I had heard such a thing from him and I didn't know if the news was true or not. However, at such a critical moment in the pandemic in the province of Hebei, I wonder why someone would invent such "provocative" news. Precisely because I don't know the facts, I don't dare to draw any conclusions for the moment.

Then I asked the local faithful and a teacher said: "These are the reasons given by the school: according to them, Xiao Guozhuang has become infected because of religious activity". But he too didn't even know where this village is exactly or how things really are. So I think they are just urban legends, even on the part of the school.

So I kept asking others for information, and the deeper I go, the more I find the news unreliable.

First of all, the churches in the Shijiazhuang area received a notice on Christmas Eve (December 24th), asking them to suspend the Christmas celebrations; Christmas Eve masses were celebrated by  there was the priest alone in his parish, and all the preparations for Christmas were abandoned.

Secondly, exactly 14 days have passed from December 24 to today, but the experts' post says: "About 20 days ago, the village of Xiao Guozhuang organized a religious activity and there were several priests from Europe and the United States together ... ". I am still trying to ascertain what activity was organized 20 days ago in the village of Xiao Guozhuang, so much so that even several foreign priests came.

Thirdly, today [7 January] at 11.40am an article written by an anonymous scribe was posted, entitled "Religious proliferation in the villages: the village of Xiao Guozhuang, in Gaocheng, what mysterious activities does it organize every Wednesday and Friday?". What was the purpose of publishing such an article at such a critical moment?

Fortunately, the local priest of Shijiazhuang immediately published a statement to stop these lies. The statement reads: “The village of Xiao Guozhuang, Liu Jiazuo, Nan Qiaozhai are not Catholic villages, there are only a few Catholic residents. These villages do not have a Catholic place of prayer; they do not organize Catholic religious’ meetings. To participate in the usual religious activities, all the faithful go to the adjacent village of Bei Qiaozhai, etc… ”.

Therefore, this farce is just a way to blame [the pandemic] on religious gatherings. At present, normal religious life is subject to numerous restrictions: The Christmas Eve Mass, with no faithful throughout the region, is already irrefutable proof of this. This wave of the epidemic dates back to January 4th.

Religious activities were suspended as early as the night of Christmas Eve. Those who intend to spread slander can only bring the date forward to 20 days ago, using a non-Catholic village like that of Xiao Guozhuang as the origin of the epidemic this time.

Apparently it is artfully constructed news; if it is absorbed by the public, the faithful will have no way to defend themselves. If it is not accepted, it can pass off as a joke, or irrelevant. But if the faithful think about it, it is terrifying. In the name of respect for the rules of prevention, this will certainly lead to the suspension of religious activities, which had just resumed.

[And in fact], the Patriotic Association and the Administrative Commission [of the National Catholic Church in China] of the diocese, at the request of their leaders, have asked all parishes in the diocese to suspend their activities. Furthermore, the oral communication mentions the meetings between the faithful of Shijiazhuang as the centre of diffusion. Public opinion is directed towards priests from Europe and the United States, without forgetting to add the following sentence: "after the analysis of the experts, it is confirmed that the virus found in Shijiazhuang and Xingtai is imported from Europe".

This reminds me of the emperor Nero. He was a lover of poetry; Others wrote them but he loved to recite them along with the mediocre ones written by himself, and each time he required the company of his ministers to receive applause. Then one day, believing that the silence of the city of Rome was not worthy of his passion in reciting poems, he decided to set the city on fire and recite the poems amidst the screams of the population. To recite a poem, the emperor ordered a city to be burned.

Among the blazing flames and the fleeing crowd, the emperor had finally managed to give vent to his passion. When it was all over, the imperial palace was surrounded by the angry people, and Nero panicked. Someone suggested to him that what the Roman people wanted at that moment was to vent their anger, and [that it was enough] to accuse the Christians of having set fire to the city. When the crowd saw the lions eating the men alive, it would forget to investigate who really was the culprit. Hence an arbitrary persecution of Christians was born. Confused people, in truth, don't care what the truth is!

The good thing is that the Church of Shijiazhuang this time reacted in time, immediately issuing a statement to break through the lies and block the negative consequences. But I still want to ask the question again: where does this evil wind blow from? Although it did not lead to negative consequences this time, it should nevertheless not be overlooked because in the course of history, the Church has been hurt too often for the very same reason ...