China: Growing Concerns For Henan’s Bishop In Prison For 9 Months

Despite the Interim Agreement between China and the Holy See, police forces have placed bishops under house arrest, imposed heavy fines on the faithful, expelled parish priests out of churches, and arrested priests and seminarians.

Newsroom (21/02/2021 4:01 PM, Gaudium Press) – The bishop disappeared in police custody on May 21, 2021, and had just returned from the hospital for a cancer operation. Together with him, ten priests and ten seminarians had been arrested. Their arrest was part of a large police operation involving 100 officers from Cangzhou, Hejian, and Shaheqiao.

The seminarians returned to their homes after a few days. They were forbidden to continue their theology studies. After having allegedly received political sessions  to instill the notion of a new religious freedom they can enjoy on the condition that they submit to the Chinese Communist Party, the priests also returned to their homes. The bishop, however, continues to be detained “illegally.”

According to Chinese law, isolation and imprisonment of a person without charge cannot last more than three months. In this case, the bishop is held for nine months in a place unknown to the faithful and even his family, without any specific accusation having emerged. Unlike in similar cases, the bishop was not allowed to return to his family for a single day during the Chinese New Year. During this period, the police allowed only two people to visit the prelate, but only for a few minutes and in the presence of police officers.

Bishop Zhang, 63, has been the bishop of Xinxiang since 1991. However, being recognized by the Holy See, and not by the Chinese government, makes him a criminal in the eyes of the authorities

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From this point of view, the Interim Agreement between China and the Holy See appears to have been broken. The persecution of Catholics – especially non-official Catholics – has increased since the agreement. Its terms, however, are not respected. 

In paper, the agreement followed specific conditions: only concerned the appointment of new bishops, based on the premise that the Church’s situation – including the “underground” Church – would remain on standby. The resolution of pending problems would be achieved through dialogue between the two parties.

Instead, in recent years, police forces have placed bishops under house arrest, imposed heavy fines on the faithful, expelled parish priests out of churches, and arrested priests and seminarians.

In Henan Province alone, the persecution is even harsher since Christians make up about 4% of the population, a higher percentage than in the rest of China. The diocese of Xinxiang has 100,000 faithful.

“Today, February 21, it has been nine months since our bishop was detained in an unknown place, illegally,” a faithful voices his concerns over the fate of Most Rev. Joseph Zhang Weizhu, bishop of Xinxiang (Henan Province).

(Via Aisanews.it)

Compiled by Raju Hasmukh

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