TANG ZHE | BITTER WINTER
Some churches refusing to join the Patriotic Church are repurposed by the state, while others are barred from activities in the name of “epidemic prevention.”
As the expiration date for the Vatican-China deal of 2018 drew closer, local authorities across China intensified crackdowns on unregistered Catholics, ignoring the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 that ask to respect those who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) for reasons of conscience. Bitter Winter continuously receives reports about new cases of persecution.
Nuns in Hebei ordered to return home
Nuns in the Diocese of Xuanhua in the northern province of Hebei are repeatedly pressured by local officials to fill out forms for joining the CPCA. “We’d rather be arrested and imprisoned then fill out these applications,” one of the nuns said. “After the forms are filled out, they would summon us to attend training classes in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang, where we would be indoctrinated with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) iideology, as they do it to priests.”
In June, the government of Gaojiaying town in Zhangjiakou city’s Chongli district ordered the nuns serving in the town’s Catholic Church, who refused to join the CPCA, to leave the area because “they were not locals.”
“This is our home; some of us have lived here for 20 years,” a nun lamented. “We have no homes to return to. Most of our family members have passed away.”
Unwilling to compromise, the nuns remain in the church. Still, they do not exclude the possibility that the local government will forcibly send them to their hometowns or imprison them in the near future.
Services to commemorate an archbishop’s death anniversary banned
August 28 marked the tenth anniversary of the death of Archbishop John Yang Shudao from the Archdiocese of Fuzhou in Fujian Province. Born in 1919, he was ordained a priest in 1947, but the communist authorities sentenced him to life in 1955. Released after years in captivity, he was repeatedly arrested again, spending most of his life in prison.
The United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau of Fuzhou-administered Lianjiang county restricted local believers from commemorating the archbishop’s anniversary in August in the name of “epidemic prevention.” But local Catholics believe that the real reasons were different. “Archbishop Yang had been imprisoned for 30 years for refusing to join the CPCA,” a churchgoer said. “The government forbids to commemorate archbishop Yang because he was a cohering force, uniting and influencing believers. And that is what the CCP fears most—a collective force joining together against it.”
He also revealed that the government prohibits unregistered Catholic churches from celebrating Mass or holding other activities using epidemic prevention as a pretext. The believer thinks that all such restrictions would be lifted as soon as congregations join the CPCA and raise the national flag. In reality, however, this is not the case.
A 300-year-old church in Jiangxi turned into an entertainment venue
The “Sorrowful and Immaculate Sacred Heart Church” (痛苦無玷聖心堂) in the Diocese of Yujiang in the southeastern province of Jiangxi has a history spanning nearly 300 years. Located in Gangbeijijia village under the jurisdiction of Yingtan city’s Tongjia town, the church has been renovated five times. The venue was ordered to raise the national flag, and since April this year, the local government issued several orders to rectify it, resulting in the removal of religious symbols and paintings inside and the cross atop the church roof.
On May 10, six government officials brought four villagers to the church and instructed them to dance, disrupting church activities.
On September 9, the town government ordered to repurpose the church and turn it into an entertainment venue with a canteen, an amusement arcade, and an activity center for the elderly.
“The church had to be rectified on orders from the provincial government. No leniency was allowed,” a local official said.
“The government has tried repeatedly to take over the church,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter. “I was ready to protest to the end, even if meant losing my job and government benefits.”
Threatening to cancel their welfare benefits and other state allowances, local governments across China are routinely pressuring people of faith to remove religious symbols from their homes, ordering to display portraits of President Xi Jinping or Chairman Mao instead.