Faithful of Xinxiang diocese: "He is being held in an unknown place, illegally". Arrested last May after a cancer operation. Under to Chinese law, the detention of a person without charge cannot last more than three months. The provisional agreement between China and the Holy See appears to have been "betrayed" by many.
Rome (AsiaNews) - "Today, February 21, it has been nine months since our bishop was detained in an unknown place, illegally," a faithful tells AsiaNews of his bitterness over the fate of Mgr Joseph Zhang Weizhu, bishop of Xinxiang (Henan).
The bishop disappeared in police custody on 21st May 2021, and had just returned from hospital for a cancer operation. Together with him, 10 priests and 10 seminarians had been arrested. Their arrest was part of a large police operation involving 100 officers from Cangzhou, Hejian, and Shaheqiao.
The seminarians returned to their homes after a few days, and were forbidden to continue their theology studies. After a few "political sessions" to instil in them the "religious freedom" that they can enjoy on condition that they submit to the Chinese Communist Party, the priests also returned to their homes. The bishop, however, continues to be detained "illegally".
According to Chinese law, isolation and imprisonment of a person without charge cannot last more than three months. Instead, the bishop was held for nine months in a place unknown to the faithful and even his family, without any specific accusation having emerged. Unlike in other similar cases, the bishop was not allowed to return to his family for a single day during the Chinese New Year. During this period, the police allowed only two people to visit the prelate, but only for a few minutes and in the presence of police officers.
Msgr Zhang, 63, has been the bishop of Xinxiang since 1991. However, he is recognised by the Holy See, but not by the Chinese government, which makes him a "criminal".
Under China's New Regulations on Religious Activities, services and schools (including theology schools) are permitted only in places registered and controlled by the government. Religious personnel can only carry out their functions if they adhere to the "independent" Church (from the Holy See) and submit to the Party.
The detention of Mgr Zhang - like that of many other religious and non-religious figures - casts a shadow over the emphasis on friendship proclaimed during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which ended yesterday. The slogan of the Games was "Together for a shared future".
Many international observers do not believe that China wants a shared future, but one of "submission to its power".
From this point of view, even the Interim Agreement between China and the Holy See appears to have been "betrayed". The persecution of Catholics - especially non-official Catholics - has increased since the agreement, which was not respected in its terms.
In fact, the agreement only concerned the appointment of new bishops, and was based on the premise that the rest of the Church's situation - including the "underground" Church - would remain on stand-by, pending the resolution of problems through dialogue between the two parties.
Instead, in recent years, police forces have placed bishops under house arrest, imposed heavy fines on the faithful, kicked parish priests out of churches, and arrested priests and seminarians.
In Henan, the persecution is even harsher since Christians make up about 4% of the population, a higher percentage than in the rest of the country. The diocese of Xinxiang has 100,000 faithful.