09/25/2018, 12.35
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Chinese Catholics mull agreement amid persecution

by John Ai

The Patriotic Association enhances the "independence" of the Church; then Liu Bainian expresses appreciation for the Sino-Vatican agreement. The faithful wonder if the Vatican's availability will reduce violence: crosses and churches destroyed; campaigns to get rid of poor Christians, students and teachers; homes for the elderly requisitioned and destroyed to make way for new urban projects.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The agreement between the Holy See and the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops continues to provoke discussion among Chinese Catholics and Protestants, while signs of persecution are growing. The "provisional" fruit of this secret dialogue that was conducted for years was announced on the eve of the Mid-Autumn festival and seems to setoff unexpected shockwaves among  Catholics and observers.

The shock was also shared by the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese bishops who immediately posted a statement on their site stating that they will always adhere to the principles of "independence", "sincization" and submission to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party " .

The principal of "independence" is a controversial one  because it presupposes autonomy from the Pope and the universal Church. Reaffirming independence means in some way rendering useless the agreement that instead provides for the participation of the Holy See in the appointment of bishops.

Later, in an interview with Voice of America, Liu Bainian, honorary president of the Patriotic Association and for so long dubbed "the Pope of China", stated that he fully supports the agreement, which "is beneficial for pastoral work and the spread of the Gospel in China ".

Unofficial Catholics have mixed feelings. For Li, Li from underground community in Beijing said that he supports the agreement if it is good for Catholics in China, however, the Holy See should take the loyalty of the underground church into consideration. " At least we have to believe the Holy See is smarter than us”, said another Catholic.

Several comments posted on social media, critical of the agreement, have been removed by censors. Hong Kong Apple Daily reports he was not allowed to reach underground Catholics because he was stopped at the airport and sent back.

Another priest said that the agreement is the result of bargaining and therefore there are losses and gains on both sides. He thinks that the agreement will at least prevent illegitimate ordinations, or celebrations in the presence of excommunicated bishops. He also hopes that the bishops readmitted to communion, with the lifting of the excommunications, are worthy of the Pope’s forgiveness.

An underground Catholic from Hebei has criticized the erection of the new diocese of Chengde. It seems to him that the Holy See has surrendered the power to establish dioceses to China. He fears that the Holy See will have less and less influence in China because "the real power will be in the hands of the Party".

Many wonder if the Vatican's agreement and availability will bring more freedom to Chinese Catholics and to Christians in general.

For some time the authorities have intensified their repression against Catholics and Protestants, including official communities. The campaign to destroy crosses and churches, which began in 2014 in Zhejiang, has now spread to many parts of the country.

Protestant churches in Beijing, Zhengzhou, Guiyang, Chengdu and other cities have been closed or repressed for their refusal to enter the official Church (the Three Self movement) or to demonstrate submission to the Party. Destruction and vandalism are also recorded among Henan's Catholic communities.

Thanks to the development of information technology, in China it is now possible to monitor every citizen. The churches are obliged to install video cameras to monitor the activities of the faithful.

In Henan, Anhui, Jiangxi, the cadres of the Party visit the homes of Christians asking them to abjure the faith, with the threat of cancelling their pensions, medical care or aid for the poor.

In Wenzhou (Zhejiang), in schools, teachers and students are asked not to believe in any religion (https://twitter.com/xu_xia/status/1043272923816120321 ).

Jin Guoping, head of the Wenzhou Office for Ethnic and Religious Affairs, in an article on China Religion, states that "a mechanism has been established that tracks some important groups that believe in religions, which include teachers and students ... having spoken with 117,300 people who are in religious groups ". The authorities did not respond to the request for comments on this fact.

So far we do not understand any reason for this type of campaign, whether they have an ideological or economic character. Last August in Handan (Hebei), a home for the elderly belonging to the local official Church was demolished to make way for a new residential center. A local newspaper wrote that it had the support of government authorities and immediately the article was removed.

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