The Italian daily La Repubblica reported Wednesday that police have arrested Bishop Lucas Li Jingfeng and his assistant, confined a dozen priests, closed a monastery and two convents, and sent seminarians, monks and nuns home — all in the past month.
These faithful are part of an underground Catholic community that refuses to join the state-approved “patriotic” church.
Quoting local sources, La Repubblica reported that police went to the Feng Xiang cathedral and took Bishop Lucas Li telling him to “pack a lot of clothes” for a “long journey” and a long political session.
The 81-year-old bishop was taken with his assistant to an unknown locality. They haven´t been heard from, since Nov. 4.
Feng Xiang Diocese is perhaps the only Catholic diocese in mainland China which has only an underground community; there is no “official” community here.
Until recently the bishop, 16 priests, 14 brothers, 25 nuns and about 20,000 Catholics were free to live their faith in a number of parishes and convents.
Last summer, however, a branch of the Religious Affairs Bureau was opened in Feng Xiang to register Catholics in the state-controlled church, or Patriotic Association (PA). The “church” is headed by Communist Party members, mostly atheists.
Also on Nov. 4 police and security officials went to various parishes calling priests and parishioners to church.
At least 12 priests were taken in custody and confined in three or four hotels for “courses” on government “Regulations on Religion,” which give instructions on how Catholic activity must be controlled.
Witnesses say the police threatened the priests: “If you do not join the PA you will no longer be considered priests; your ordination will be declared invalid. You will not be allowed to go to work in church.”
All the priests were ordained by Bishop Lucas Li. Government rules say a priest may only carry out his ministry with government control and registration.
La Repubblica sources say that on Nov. 21 police went to a Feng Xiang monastery and told all the brothers and novices to go home. The same day security guards went to a building next to the cathedral and sent away the 15 seminarians and four nuns in charge. The same happened in a convent of 20 nuns in a parish in Waiyoutou.
Feng Xiang Diocese is now left with two priests in poor health, aged 90 and 78. The former is at the cathedral, the latter in a small parish.
A local Catholic said, “They are trying to eliminate our diocese. We know all about these pressures. All we want to do is to live in freedom of religion, in communion with the Pope and the universal Church. And we are not afraid.”
Two years ago a secret Chinese Communist Party document came to light. The document said that in view of possible diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See, the party would reinforce the Patriotic Association in order to persecute and eliminate the most-orthodox clergy and faithful.
Numerous Chinese bishops, official and underground, have asked the authorities to suppress the Patriotic Association and let the bishops themselves be responsible to the government for Church activity. So far, Beijing has refused.