10 priests from Baoding's underground church disappear in the hands of police
Forced into "guanzhi", a restriction of movements and activities. Subjected to political sessions to adhere to the official Church and therefore to the Chinese Communist Party. Several religious, still free, fear they will be arrested soon. The Sino-Vatican agreement has not stopped the persecution against the underground community.
Beijing - At least 10 priests, all belonging to the underground (unofficial) community of Baoding (Hebei), have disappeared in the hands of the police over a period stretching from January 2022 until today. Four of them disappeared on April 29 and 30, just a few days ago.
The priests and faithful of Baoding community are asking for prayers for them and news on their whereabouts. Many family members of the missing priests have turned to their village policemen for information, or to find a way to open a channel of communication, but in vain.
Several priests, who are still free, fear that they may be arrested soon.
The detention the priests are subjected to is called "guanzhi": It is not a physical prison, but a restriction of movements and activities, and forced participation in political sessions with teh aim of coercing them to join the official Church. But joining the official Church entails joining and submitting to the Chinese Communist Party.
Chinese law allows "guanzhi" for up to three years, without any charges being filed. However, the faithful fear that something might happen to the priests. In the past, priests and bishops who were kidnapped were later found dying or dead.
Here are the names of those arrested so far:
Fr. Chen Hechao, taken away by government representatives last January;
Fr. Ji Fu Hou;
Fr. Yang Guanglin;
Fr. Shang Mancang was taken away in April;
Fr. Yang Jianwei and Fr. Zhang Chunguang (see photo 1), both disappeared on April 29, around 4 p.m., both in Xushui village (Baoding). So far, nothing has been learned, nor is there any signal from them;
Fr. Zhang Zhenquan (see photo 2) also disappeared on April 29, from Xushui village, around 3 pm;
Fr. Yin Shuangxi (see photo 3), who disappeared on the same day in Xushui;
Fr. Zhang Shouxin, who disappeared on April 30 in Baoding.
The underground community in Baoding is one of the oldest and most numerous in the Church in China. Their bishop, Msgr. James Su Zhimin, has been in the hands of the police for at least 25 years, having already spent more than 40 years at hard labor under Mao Zedong. The faithful of Baoding are also asking for prayers for Msgr. Su Zhimin and another priest, Liu Honggeng, who has also been in prison for 7 years. The non-official community of Baoding has split after the vicar of Mgr Su, Francis An Shuxin decided to move to the official Church (some say he did so at the suggestion of the Vatican): he had previously spent decades in prison. Since then, the community and the priests have been divided.
The Sino-Vatican agreement dealt another blow to the underground community. As it stands, the agreement deals only with the ordinations of new bishops, but it is being used by the Chinese government and the United Front as "proof" that the Vatican would espouse the Party line of total control over the Church. Since the signing of the understanding, the United Front has been forcing all priests to profess their adherence to the Party and membership in the official Church. Those who do not do so are removed from the parish or community and suffer these detentions without charge, the guangzhi.