05/27/2015, 00.00
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As the parish priest at Baoding’s Mary Queen of China Church is arrested, another Catholic altar is demolished

Fr Liu Honggeng has been missing since 7 May. His mobile phone is off and his parishioners have hit a wall of silence by local police. The underground priest was getting ready for the Marian month. He has already spent eight years in prison for refusing to join the Patriotic Association. The authorities have also detained Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding for 12 days without explanation. In Baoding, agents demolished an "illegal" Catholic altar. Two women were wounded trying to protect it.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Fr Liu Honggeng Liu, vice rector of Our Lady Queen of China shrine and parish in Baoding (central province of Hebei), "was arrested by local authorities, who took him into custody on 7 May to prevent pilgrimages to his church,” a local Catholic source told AsiaNews.

“Xi Jinping’s recent statement to the United Front on religions has boosted extremist views among local authorities, who now feel entitled to do what they want,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Fr Liu “was getting ready for the Marian month,” the source noted. “Chinese Catholics, especially in Baoding, feel very close to this period of the year. The diocese has about 500,000 believers, in the official and underground Churches, and everyone is particularly devoted to Our Lady.”

“There are more than 70 priests and the pastoral ministry is very much alive, despite the persecution. People are often arrested or detained because the area is a stronghold of the underground Church. But we did not expect Fr Liu to be arrested again.”

The priest has already spent eight years in prison, convicted without trial for refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in 2006.

"He is a good pastor and a good person,” the source said. “His parishioners have tried to find out his whereabouts after he disappeared but without success. We hope and pray that he will soon come back to us. He had been released only last August. "

The source told AsiaNews that “Xi Jinping’s statement about the need for 'Chinese' religions without 'foreign influences' has boosted the most extreme elements inside the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Before they had taken a wait-and-see attitude but now they feel entitled to attack by the new leader.”

The aforementioned association is a government body that controls China’s official Catholic Church. In his Letter to the Chinese Church, Pope Benedict XVI described such an organisation as “irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine”.

In the same diocese, the authorities have demolished an eight by six metres altar, built in February by a group of local Catholics.

Some 40 agents carried out the operation without informing the faithful and without a warrant, UCAN news agency reported. Two women, members of the congregation, tried to prevent the destruction but were injured in the commotion.

The authorities have also released Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, bishop of Zhengding (Hebei) after 12 days of detention.

The prelate has a history of arrests and releases. In April, he had ordained some priests. Last Sunday, he was able to celebrate the feast of Pentecost with his faithful.

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