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BEIJING (LifeSiteNews) — Several bishops of the underground Roman Catholic Church in China remain behind bars as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) increases its surveillance and violent persecution of Christians and the Vatican looks on in silence. One such bishop has now suffered over 40 years in prison, if he is even still alive, a fact Rome seems to have little interest in investigating. 

ChinaAid’s 2024 annual report on the CCP’s persecution of Christians in China has highlighted the heightened surveillance of communist authorities over religious leaders and their activities and the insistence of the government that all religions implement a program of Sinicization that essentially means the preaching of communist ideology and devotion to party leaders.  

ChinaAid reported that “On December 23, Wang Huning, the CCP’s supreme leader of religious affairs, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP’s Central Committee and Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, met with the participants of the 11th Conference of Chinese Christian Representatives held in Beijing, asking them to ‘identify with the CCP’ and ‘keep a strict governance of religion.’” 

ChinaAid identified the following main characteristics of government persecution in 2023: 

  • Labeling receipt of tithes and offerings as fraud. 
  • Increased open hostility towards Christianity and Christians, manifested in the use of violence and torture. 
  • Increased secret trials and strict blockage of court trial information, including verdicts. 
  • Targeting church-sponsored education and youth both within and without churches. 

READ: Archbishop Cordileone launches project to honor ‘modern martyrs of communism’  

The report also detailed the forced “disappearance” of “underground” clergy who oppose the state-sanctioned forms of religion, such as the government-run schismatic version of the Catholic Church, officially called the “Catholic” Patriotic Association (CPA). 

In February 2023, authorities detained underground Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, of the Wenzhou diocese, in the Zhejiang Province, preventing him from attending the funeral of one of his own priests. According to the report,  

On February 2, the authorities took Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of the Wenzhou diocese and his secretary, Fr. Paolo Jiang Sunian, in order to prevent them from attending the funeral of the “underground” clergyman Fr. Leo Chen Nailiang. Bishop Peter Shao and Fr. Leo both belong to the “underground” church loyal to the Holy See. Fr. Leo served as the priest of Pingyang parish in Wenzhou and was deeply loved by the congregation. After he passed away, the authorities banned all “underground” faithful from attending his funeral and celebration Mass presided over by three priests from the parish of Rui’an. 

In April 2023, police arrested Father Xie Tianming, an underground Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Baoding, in the Hebei Province. The priest was tortured and is still held by authorities for refusing to join the state-run official church. Detailing his story, ChinaAid wrote,  

At about 6pm on April 10, Father Xie Tianming, an underground priest of the Catholic Diocese of Baoding, Hebei province, went “missing.” It turned out that he was being held by the  authorities at a secret location to receive political “re-education” and “brainwashing.” He may suffer a long detention until he’s “proven” to have changed his mindset. Due to the Chinese government’s relentless information blockage, there’s very little information about Fr Xie. 

In September 2023, a priest was charged with “fraud” because he was not officially recognized by the government as a religious leader, since he had refused to register and join the Patriotic Association. Per ChinaAid,  

In early September, Father Yang Xiaoming from the Wenzhou Diocese in Zhejiang province was charged with, tried on and convicted of “carrying out religious activities under the guise of a religious personnel or obtaining money by fraud and other illegal activities,” because he refused to join the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He was subjected to administrative penalties, including “ordering him to cease his (priestly) activities, confiscating illegal proceeds of 28,473.33 yuan (~$3,880), and imposing a fine of 1,526.67 yuan (~$210).” Fr. Yang was ordained on December 18, 2020, by Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou Diocese, who is recognized by the Vatican but has been repeatedly arrested and monitored because of his refusal to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. 

READ: Protestant pastor shares powerful testimony of faith after enduring seven years in Chinese prison  

Perhaps most famously, Bishop James Su Zhimin continues to be held by the communist authorities if he indeed is still alive. Last seen in 2003, Bishop Su would be 92 years old this July 10. Stalwartly refusing to compromise his faith by joining the schismatic Patriotic Association, which is run by and swears loyalty to the atheistic Chinese Communist Party, he has suffered behind bars for over 40 years, following the famous example of the heroic bishop of Shanghai Cardinal Ignatius Kung, who spent 30 years in prison for refusing to start the schismatic church at the behest of Communist authorities in 1955. 

READ: Tribute to Cardinal Kung: Hero bishop of Shanghai spent 30 years in prison for defying Communism  

According to a report of 2022 by Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights, the bishop’s whereabouts were unknown, nor was it known whether he was still alive. A priest familiar with the situation of the Church in China confirmed to LifeSiteNews that the status of Bishop Su remains unknown today in 2024. 

Detailing the numerous arrests of Bishop Su by Chinese authorities over the years, Bitter Winter wrote of the indomitable prelate,  

Bishop James Su Zhimin is widely regarded as a hero by Chinese Catholics. He was a lay Catholic leader who was arrested three times between 1956 and 1975. Released in 1979, he studied clandestinely to become a priest and was ordained in 1981 at age 49. This led to his fourth arrest in 1982. Released in 1986, in 1988 he was chosen as Auxiliary Bishop of Baoding, and promptly arrested again, for the fifth time.

Upon his release, he was consecrated a Bishop in the underground church in 1993, and promoted by the Holy See to Bishop of Baoding in 1995, which led to his sixth arrest. His case started to become known abroad, and under a specific request by the United States he was released, then placed under house arrest (that he regarded as his seventh arrest). As he continued to be popular among Catholics, he was taken to jail again in 1997.

This eighth arrest was the final one. The CCP managed to keep the name of the jail where he was detained undisclosed. He was “discovered” by chance by relatives in a Baoding hospital where he had been taken for eye problems in 2003. But as soon as he had been recognized, police took him away from the hospital. This is the last time relatives or friends saw him.

In its report on the unabated persecution of Christians, ChinaAid also recounted the devastating forced demolition of churches carried out by authorities as local Christians looked on in horror.  

According to the report,  

On the evening of January 11, without an agreed compensation plan, the Ruian county government of Wenzhou city, Zhejiang province, dispatched a large number of SWAT agents to forcibly demolish Nangang Church Feiyun Street, Nangang village, in order to build commercial buildings on its site. The church covered an area of 8 acres and was worth tens of millions of RMB. 

Two videos of the forced demolition were circulated on the Internet. One of them showed that dozens of police stood fully armed, wearing helmets, masks, police uniforms, and raincoats, confronting Christians attempting to defend the church. The other video showed several police officers surrounding Christians who came to stop the demolition of the church. 

The large cranes continued to work for several hours, and the forced demolition went from the night to the next day. A video captured the moment the church was toppled. The walls and windows of the entire building were cracked. Bricks and tiles crumpled. The big beautiful church was instantly reduced to rubble. Its cross fell to the ground with the collapse of the church and drowned in a cloud of ashes.  

Other provinces have seen similar destruction of churches and convents, including a hundred-year-old historic abbey attached to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with plans to continue the demolition of churches in the future. ChinaAid wrote, 

The authorities of Zhejiang province’s Wenzhou city appear to have plans to resume demolition of church crosses. In late July, Dongqiao Church in Baixiang township received a notice from the township government saying that the authorities would come and remove the church’s cross on August 3.

On February 22, the police of Datong, Shanxi province, demolished the residences around the historic Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary used by priests and nuns of the local Catholic diocese. The historic cathedral and abbey have a 100-year history with all required permits.

READ: Chinese province forbids parents of schoolchildren to hold or practice religious beliefs: report  

Nor are Chinese authorities content with the surveillance and imprisonment of clergy, the destruction of churches, and the indoctrination of the young in schools. They also have sought to stamp out all vestiges of Christians holy days, even banning the least sign of Christmas celebrations in December.  

In the city of Baoding, police blocked Christians from attending church services on Christmas night. According to ChinaAid’s report,  

On December 24, after 4:00 pm local time, the police implemented special traffic control measures in downtown Baoding, Hebei province. Vehicles were not allowed to enter the streets leading to churches, and public transportation passing through the area was instructed to take alternative routes. All stores around churches were ordered to close and prohibited from conducting business.

Police officers were deployed in large numbers around churches, with police cars stationed near the church buildings. Police officers were wearing riot gear, and some were placed inside the churches. The atmosphere was filled with tension and unease. The police blocked parents with children from entering the churches.

READ: Head of Chinese Communist gov’t-run church accepts invitation to visit Diocese of Hong Kong  

In a statement to LifeSiteNews on the situation of the underground Catholic Church in China, Steven Mosher, a longtime China watcher, denounced the tragic fate of faithful bishops who refuse to join the state-sanctioned, communist-run “official” church and the Vatican’s silence in the face of such persecution. 

“All bishops who refuse to join the Catholic Patriotic Association are being placed under house arrest, or disappeared, by the CCP,” Mosher said. “Although the Vatican said several years ago that the Sino-Vatican agreement does not require anyone to join this schismatic organization, refusal to do so results in persecution and punishment. And the Vatican stands by and does nothing.” 

READ: Vatican suggests Communist China does not persecute Christians 

Despite the continued imprisonment of Catholic bishops and priests, including the more than 40 years behind bars suffered by Bishop Su, the Vatican still inexplicably allows the communist authorities in Beijing to name bishops for the Catholic dioceses of China, all of whose nominees will thus inevitably turn out favorable toward communist indoctrination and government control of Catholics. 

The tight grip of the CCP on the Catholic Church in China now appears to also be closing in on the Church in Hong Kong with last month’s passage of the new security law Article 23, which will require priests to violate the seal of silence to which they are bound in the sacrament of Confession should they hear what authorities deem a “crime of treason.”  

Priests familiar with the situation of the Church in Hong Kong have told LifeSiteNews that the CCP can now easily frame Catholic clergy on trumped up charges in much the same way they have been doing for years in mainland China, but that some priests have already said they will suffer imprisonment before betraying their faith. 

READ: Catholic priest says Hong Kong clergy will go to prison before violating seal of Confession  


Hong Kong law will drive clergy into hiding to avoid violating seal of confession: priest 

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