04/27/2021, 10.15
CHINA - VATICAN
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Fined for hosting underground bishop's mass. The Sino-Vatican Agreement betrayed

by Bernardo Cervellera

A Catholic from Zhejiang is fined for hosting Msgr. Shao Zhumin in his private chapel. The prelate, recognized by the Holy See, but not by the Party, is branded as an emissary of a "foreign institution". All attempts by the Party to eliminate pastors and unofficial communities, tearing up the premises of the Agreement between China and the Holy See.

Rome (AsiaNews) – An increasing number of unofficial bishops in China are being prevented from carrying out their ministry. Placed under house arrest or detained in other locations, isolated, fined or encumbered in their daily lives render any gathering between the bishops and their priests or faithful increasingly impossible.

The fact risks undermining the Sino-Vatican Agreement which, dealing only with the nominations of new bishops, left open the entire issue of unofficial prelates, recognized by the Holy See, but not by the Party.

Instead, since the provisional agreement was signed and renewed, there have been increasingly blatant and aggressive interventions against underground bishops and their ministry as if to eliminate them, betraying the premise of the stand-by provided for in the agreement.

The latest such incident occurred in Wangli (Cangnan County, Zhejiang). The area is within the diocese of Wenzhou, whose bishop - recognized by the Pope, but not by the Party - is Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin.

In Zhejiang, where the percentage of Christians exceeds 10%, some families have built private chapels on their property. On March 16, Mr. Huang Ruixun, 56, offered his chapel to Msgr. Shao Zhumin and about twenty faithful. As a result, he was sentenced to a fine of 200 thousand yuan (about 25510 euros). The charge: Mr. Huang hosted Msgr. Shao "for illegal religious activities, also providing him with lunch, a rest room, etc.".

The complaint by the county religious affairs office reminds us that "facilitating illegal religious activities" is against the new regulations on religious activities. The new regulations, launched a few months before the Agreement, in February 2018, in fact require that "regular" religious activities can only take place in places registered with the government.

The fact that the chapel offered by Mr. Huang is the equivalent of a private dwelling and as such has all the regular permits to be used as a private chapel. This has led many Chinese faithful to question whether praying in groups at home – which has become the norm during the pandemic - is an "illegal religious activity" that must be fined.

The charge also exposes another violation: "As the organizer of illegal activities was ordained by a foreign institution, this goes against the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China".

This is the crux of the matter: Msgr. Shao Zhumin was nominated a bishop by the Pope ("foreign institution") and does not adhere to the principles of "independence, autonomy and self-management" of the Church in China, which according to the Party are necessary elements to carry out his ministry.

The new "Administrative measures for religious personnel" will be in force from 1 May. These require that every bishop or priest (or other religious figure in other faiths) respond to these criteria: "Love the motherland, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules, practice the core values ​​of socialism, adhere to the principle of independence and autonomous management of religion, and adhere to China's religious policy, maintaining unity national unity, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability "(art.3).

Bishop Shao Zhumin is one of the sweetest and meekest people you could wish to know. His failure to adhere to the principle of "independence, autonomy and self-management" is not a "terrorist" choice, but a Christian one, because he thinks that his ministry is always dependent on the Pope's Pietrine ministry.

Moreover, it is very curious that in the case of Msgr. Shao Zhumin, this bond with the pontiff is seen as a relationship with "a foreign institution". Instead, in the case of a new appointment of bishops wanted by the Party, the Pope's "last word" (as Francis himself said) is welcome and even (probably) explicitly stated in the Agreement.

In any case, the fine for offering hospitality in one's own home, "also providing lunch, a rest room, etc." appears to be a violation of the Chinese Constitution which preaches the right of every citizen to religious freedom.

As mentioned above, the continuous obstacles that are imposed on unofficial bishops are in fact a betrayal of the Agreement which provided for a status quo, until the issue is addressed by the Holy See and the Chinese government.

Instead, there are bishops under house arrest, such as Msgr. Jia Zhiguo, bishops who have been cut off from water, electricity and gas, such as Msgr. Guo Xijin, and now bishops who cannot be hosted by their faithful, such as Msgr. Shao Zhumin.

Then, there is another serious aspect for which the Agreement risks being betrayed.

In the past, official and unofficial bishops met together and the underground communities were offered the use of churches for celebrations. With the new regulations and above all with the new measures, this hospitality becomes risky and "illegal": it creates a greater division between official and underground communities, making the reconciliation, so desired by Pope Francis, even more distant.

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