Security officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forcibly carried off three underground Catholic priests and more than a dozen nuns and seminarians last Monday in Baoding, according to local sources.
One of the priests arrested was Father Lu Genjun, the former vicar general of the Baoding diocese, reported AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. The bishop of Baoding, Giacomo Su Zhimin, was abducted by police in 1997 and nothing has been known about his whereabouts since then.
One priest of the underground community of Baoding noted that crackdowns against the underground church have intensified following the renewal of the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican on the naming of bishops, AsiaNews reported.
The diocese of Baoding, with over 500,000 Catholic faithful, is one of the cornerstones of the underground Catholic community.
This week’s arrests in Baoding coincide with reports of the eviction of eight Catholic nuns from their convent in the northern province of Shanxi for their refusal to join the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Amid ongoing harassment, surveillance, and intimidation from local authorities, the nuns finally opted to abandon their convent after authorities ordered the removal of the cross and a dozen religious statues from the building and grounds, Bitter Winter reported earlier this week.
“The cross is a symbol of salvation. Removing it felt like cutting our own flesh,” one of the nuns said. “Had we refused to take it away, the government would have demolished the convent.”
“Officials declared us ‘dangerous persons’ and repeatedly harassed us,” the sister said. “They asked us to write down what we had done since kindergartens [sic] and demanded to disclose everything we did over the past few months. They even wanted us to remember the license plates of the vehicles we used during our trips.”
As part of their surveillance of the nuns, local authorities had installed four surveillance cameras in the convent to monitor the sisters and their visitors.
“Three persons, a police officer and two local officials, were assigned to keep watch over us,” the nun said. “They often went inside the convent to inquire about our activities, sometimes at night. The government even hired some thugs and ruffians to harass us. They would get into the kitchen while we cooked to mess around or act lasciviously, inviting us to have dinner with them.”
Many members of the underground Catholic Church in China, which is faithful to Rome, have resisted joining the Patriotic Association for fear of being “completely controlled by the CCP, cut off from God,” one Chinese Catholic told Bitter Winter.
China’s Catholic Church has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, noting that the patriotic association had broken off all relationships with the pope and would be under the direct control of the communist government.
Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Catholics in China with an open letter, in which he praised their faithfulness, encouraged their perseverance, and laid out new guidelines for the life of the Church in China.