04/18/2006, 00.00
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Easter repression against Church in Hebei

Local sources tell AsiaNews hard repression continues. Believers are prevented from attending mass at local churches and forced to travel up to 300 km to take part in services in provinces under less surveillance. The list of bishops and priests detained in the province is updated.

Rome (AsiaNews) – As in the past, in Hebei province underground Catholics celebrated Easter this year under the sign of persecution. The campaign launched by the Patriotic Association (PA) and the Communist Party (CCP) has not let up and their goal remains the same: destroy the province's unofficial Catholic community.

A local source told AsiaNews that "hard repression continues. A high number of Catholics in the Diocese of Baoding had to forego Easter celebration for want of priests. Many had to read the Gospel or the Missal at home, away from the prying eyes of the dreaded police".

The local bishop, Mgr James Su Zhimin, 72, was arrested in 1996; he has not been heard since. His auxiliary, Francis An Shuxin, 54, suffered the same fate the following year.

"So far no one knows where the two bishops are and several priests from the same diocese are also in prison," the same source said. "Some faithful have travelled up to 300 km to attend mass and celebrate Easter in an underground church in another diocese," he added.

Hebei province has the highest number of Catholics in China. There are in fact some 5.1 million faithful, who belong mostly to the unofficial church, which is not recognised by the government. For the past several years, the authorities have been carrying out a harsh campaign of repression. In addition to the aforementioned bishops, those under arrest or surveillance are:

·        Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, bishop of Zhengding. In 2005 he was repeatedly taken into custody by the police to undergo study and brainwashing sessions to force him to join the PA, the CCP's agency to control Chinese Catholics. The current Chinese regime is bent on forcing Chinese Catholics to severe all ties with the Holy See. Bishop Jia was first arrested in January then released; he was re-arrested in July and then released once again only to be re-rearrested in November. Since then he has been held in a secret location.

·        Mgr Han Dingxian, 66, bishop of Yongnian, disappeared at the end of 2005. He was arrested in 1999 and held in isolation in a state-owned hotel. He could not have any contacts with his faithful but some were able to spot him from the windows of the hotel. However, there have been no news about him for some time now. No one has been able to see from the hotel windows. Bishop Han has already spent 20 years in jail.

·        Mgr Yao Liang, 83, auxiliary bishop of Xiwanzi, was arrested on March 31, 2005. He was eventually freed around April 20 after undergoing intense pressures to quit the unofficial Catholic community and join the PA. After his release he was again arrested and forced to attend a 're-education' programme.

Fears abound among Catholics because many bishops who disappeared have turned up dead. But they are not the only ones to have drawn the attention of the authorities. Priests, especially those in the dioceses of Baoding and of Zhengding, have also been arrested:

·        Fr Yang Jianwei was arrested on November 12, 2005, along with ten seminarians six of whom—those from outside Baoding—were freed three days later and sent home rather than back to the seminary where they were studying. The other four—Fan Fubin, Wang Yongliang, Wang Chunlei and Li Yutao—are still held in police custody at an undisclosed location. Fr Yang also remains in police hands.

·        Fr Gao Baojin, rector of an official seminary in the Diocese of Zhaoxian, was picked up by agents of the Religious Affairs Bureau in mid-November last year and forced to undergo indoctrination and brainwashing sessions.

·        Father Gao was seized along with seven deacons from his seminary: Shi Jun Long, Min Zhi Yong, Shi Chen Guang, Liu Zhong Feng, Liu Yun Tao, Huang Yu Tao, and Lu Yan Hui. They, too, were subjected to violent indoctrination sessions in Beijing and Xing Tai (Hebei).

·        Public Security detained six Catholic priests from the Diocese of Zhengding on November 18. Frs Wang Jin Shan and Gao Lingshen, both 50, were not only arrested but were also beaten. The other four clergymen— Fr Zhang Xiuchi, 60; Fr Zhang Yinhu, 45; Fr Guo Zhijun, 36; and Peng Jianjun, 30—were first placed under house arrest and then formally detained and are currently held in the Gaochen Public Security building.

·        Fr Pang Yongxing was arrested by police on September 2, 2005, along with seminarian Ma Yongjiang. Eyewitnesses said that eight Public Security trucks stopped the priest at 3 pm on that day. Father Pang, 32, is closely involved in evangelisation efforts in Hebei's countryside. Until 2001 he served as the parish priest in Beihezhuang, but in December of that year he was arrested for exercising his ministry with out officially registering with the Religious Affairs Bureau. He was sentenced to three years in a labour camp. He had just been released and had resumed his underground ministry when he was arrested. Fr Pang was responsible for a community of about 800 Catholics.

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