China's catholic underground churches face government pressure. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
China’s “underground” churches face government pressure. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Chinese “underground” bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of the coastal city of Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province, was taken by police this morning, 9 November, reports AsiaNews.

He is expected to be held for 10-15 days, the news site reported, adding that while the police generally calls these times “vacation periods … they are actually periods of interrogation and indoctrination”.

The bishop has reportedly been pressured by police to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a Communist Party body which wants independence from the Vatican for the Church in China.

Bishop Shao, 55, was appointed as bishop of Wenzhou, which has a large Christian community, in September 2016.

Since his appointment he has been brought in by police at least five times, according to AsiaNews. The last time he was released, in January, was after spending seven months in detention.

Four other Catholic priests, who also did not want to join the Patriotic Association, were taken away by police in northern Hebei province, AsiaNews reported on Monday (5 November).

Fr. Zhang Guilin, Fr. Father Wang Zhong, Fr. Su Guipeng and Fr. Zhao He were reportedly taken from their respective churches in the diocese of Zhangjiakou to a nearby hotel for interrogation.

Officials from the United Front Work Department of Yangyuan County had come to the church to fetch Fr. Zhao for a meeting with local-government officials on 24 October, reported UCAN.

He was reportedly taken to a hotel where he was kept in detention and ordered to study the new religious regulations as well as to recognise the CCPA.

UCAN also reported that Fr. Su Guipeng was “placed under home arrest so he could be indoctrinated on government policies”.

The whereabouts of another priest, Fr. Lu Danhua, who was taken away by officials in December 2017, is still unknown. Prayers, fasting and a Mass for the safety of the priest are held every month – a practice that was initiated by Bishop Zhumin.

Harassment and threats

Meanwhile Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun flew to Rome on 29 October to highlight to Pope Francis the pressure the Chinese “underground” Church is under.

In a seven-page letter, which he handed to the Pope, the Hong Kong emeritus bishop described the harassment and threats church leaders were facing.

“Underground” clerics had detailed to him how “officials have forced them to become open, to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and to obtain a priest’s certificate with the reason that the Pope has signed the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement,” Cardinal Zen told UCAN.

The Vatican and the Chinese government signed a provisional agreement in September in a long-standing dispute over the appointment of bishops.

Cardinal Zen had called the deal, which gives Beijing a say in the appointment of bishops, “an incredible betrayal”.