The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for shutting down Catholic worship, according to a report Friday from UCANews.
As one example, CCP officials prevented hundreds of underground Catholics in China from celebrating the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, one of the most important feasts in the Catholic liturgical calendar.
For Chinese Catholics, the Assumption is considered one of the major celebrations along with Christmas and Easter, and all the faithful gather in their parish churches on these days for solemn liturgical celebrations.
As Breitbart News reported in March, early on in the pandemic Beijing used the crisis as an excuse to tighten its grip on religious activities, bulldozing some churches and placing others under heavy surveillance.
In February, the Religious Affairs Bureau of the northeastern province of Jilin issued a document calling on authorities to “rectify” house churches, which are considered illegal by the government.
The document instructed local officials to investigate house churches and collect information on “when they were established, who is in charge of them, and how large the congregations are” as a first step to shutting them down altogether, stated a report by Bitter Winter.
“China is now holding itself up as a model for fighting the coronavirus. But fighting the pandemic hasn’t stopped communist officials from persecuting Christians,” Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the nonprofit group Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), said at the time.
Chinese officials issued orders that effectively banned “unregistered” religious services on the grounds of public health.
As the spread of the virus has been contained, China has already opened most major public venues, including movie theaters, from earlier lockdowns, but they have kept most churches closed, citing health concerns. This is especially true of churches belonging to the unofficial, or “underground,” Catholic Church, and this August, most of these churches in Shenyang, Liaoning province, have remained closed.
Some underground priests reportedly silently rebelled against the orders, celebrating Masses for smaller groups in private homes of the faithful.
“The priest held Masses in several places, each with about 10 people,” said Teresa Jia, an underground Catholic, in reference to her own situation. “Things are better in Shenyang, where there are no conflicts between the underground and open churches. The government more severely suppresses the underground ones.”
Ms. Jia said that she sometimes attends Masses in the state-run open church but noted that during the epidemic, “the government has tightened the restrictions on open churches, too.”
Paul Lu, a sacristan in a northern Chinese church, said that government officials have used the lockdowns to try to coerce underground Catholic priests to join the official church, threatening to shut down their parish churches if they fail to comply.
Lu said that authorities closed his own church on August 9 and kept it shut for the August 15 feast, saying they needed to carry out epidemic checks.
“This is obviously the government threatening the priest to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association,” Lu said.
In the northern Anhui province, officials shut down several underground churches, allegedly for reasons of the pandemic, but allowed the state-sanctioned church to continue holding Masses. As a result, many underground Catholics found themselves obliged to attend Mass at the state church.
Even in cases where churches have been allowed to hold liturgical services, state officials stand at the entry, restricting the number of people permitted to enter the church, witnesses said. Children are no longer permitted to attend church services at all.