03/29/2017, 10.10
CHINA
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Liaoning, a priest held for months without charge. Embarrassment for authorities

The people's court refuses to publish the final sentence against Fr. Fei Jisheng, a priest of the diocese of Shenyang. Local Catholics: "The judges recognize his innocence, but the court wants him convicted." The arrest took place on October 18 last year on suspicion of embezzlement of a sum of money which, however, belonged to the priest. Charges hide authorities’ attempts to stop his work of evangelization.

 Beijing (AsiaNews / EDA) - In the Chinese legal system, generally those accused of a crime are very quickly informed of their sentence, once they have gone to trial. In the case of Fr. Fei Jisheng, a Catholic priest of Liaoning, charged with "misappropriating funds" by the People's Court on March 21 last year, is still awaiting sentencing an official sign of the embarrassment of the local authorities.

On 21 March, Fr. Fei Jisheng, a priest of the diocese of Shenyang, was tried behind closed doors by the People's Court of Gaizhou, district of the port city of Yingkou, Liaoning Province. The police had been deployed outside the court to prevent access and only Fr. Fei’s lawyer and four witnesses were allowed into the courtroom, while dozens of Catholics were massed outside the building to pray and sing hymns. An anonymous source of the Liaoning Church told UCA News: "We have been informed that the verdict would be issued on March 23, but that the court would not have made it public before a fortnight, without further explanation."

The judges recognize his innocence

According to local Catholics, this delay in the verdict and making it public testifies to the embarrassment of the local authorities regards Fr. Fei. "I think the judges know that Fr. Fei is innocent, but the court wants to condemn him. Since many Catholics throughout China are following the case closely, the authorities are embarrassed to make public the verdict "- is the explanation of the same source.

Fr. Fei Jisheng, 40, is one of those young priests of the Church in China who care about the proclamation of the Gospel to Chinese society today. He was ordained a priest of the "official" Church in 2000, for the diocese of Shenyang, which the authorities then aggregated into nearby dioceses to form the "Diocese of Liaoning". This Manchu priest was inspired by the dynamism of Protestant pastors and initiatives of the Chinese Catholic charismatic movement to create a new path of discovery of the Christian faith. Titled "Apostolic Classes", this course, launched in 2007, was successful, both with populations of northeastern China, excluded from economic growth, with those that have adapted successfully to the new conditions of economy and an ever changing society. The "Apostolic Classes" spread across the neighboring provinces of Liaoning and Jilin and Heilongjiang, as well as to other regions of the country.

A priest targeted by authorities

This success has not escaped the notice of the authorities, who have started to monitor Fr. Fei closely. In November 2015, the priest was briefly detained by the authorities. In June 2016, he and four neighboring persons were "detained in secret" by the police for a month. The authorities accused him of having exercised his priestly ministry outside the boundaries of his diocese, without permission. On 18 October, Fr. Fei was in Fushun, a city close to Shenyang, where he visited a community of nuns, when he was again arrested by the police.

Upon learning of Fr. Fei’s arrest, the diocese of Shenyang took on a lawyer to defend him. "This allowed us to know that Father Fei was indicted for theft of a sum of money from a nursing home," says Fr. Dong Hongchang, vicar general of Shenyang, while adding that in his opinion, the real reason for the his arrest is the success of "Apostolic Classes", an initiative that the government considers the work of "illegal organizations."

On social networks, Chinese Catholics are circulating a document of thirty pages explaining, in their opinion, the real reason for the delay in the sentencing of Fr. Fei. The document is undoubtedly written by members of the apostolic classes. It explains that the priest's arrest was attributable to Han Weixing, former deputy director of the home for the elderly mentioned in the indictment. Fr. Fei, says the document, was contributing to the smooth functioning of this nursing home, when he suspected Han Weixing of corruption and dismissed him in May 2016. Eager for revenge, Han Weixing has also denounced the priest to the local Office Religious Affairs for "illegal preaching activity," but the authorities have not responded to the complaint. Han Weixing then brought the case to the higher levels and it was then, in June 2016, that an investigation begun against the priest and apostolic classes. Meanwhile, members of the Apostolic Classes had transferred a safe deposit box belonging to Fr. Fei from the nursing home to the diocese of Shenyang, and have used, according to the priest, a sum of 10 thousand yuan (€ 1,300) to adjust the costs associated with their evangelism program. The police are basing their claims on the withdrawal of that money to support the charge of embezzlement, but this would contradict the fact that the safe and its contents actually belong to the priest and that he can not be charged for appropriating money that belongs to him. According to some local Catholics, it is very likely that the Chinese authorities are trying to suppress the Apostolic Classes movement, fearing their missionary dynamism. It is also possible that Fr. Fei has attracted the hostility of some of his brother priests who would not appreciate the activities of the Apostolic Classes in the territory of their parishes.

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