Bishop detained for 12 days, priest still not heard from
Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray over the Pentecost weekend for Catholics in China and for other persecuted Christians around the world.
Perhaps unwittingly, Chinese authorities gave a boost to the Pope’s request.
Authorities have reportedly stepped up persecution of underground Catholics in the Chinese province of Hebei recently with the detention of a bishop and a priest as well as the demolition of an altar that left two laywomen injured, UCANews reported.
Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding was taken away by officials on May 12 and then sent back to his cathedral to celebrate Mass on Pentecost Sunday on May 24, according to his priests.
May 24, coincidentally, is the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Catholics in China invoke Mary, venerated at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan, near Shanghai, each May 24, Pope Francis noted. "We, too, will ask Mary to help Catholics in China always to be credible witnesses of this merciful love among their fellow citizens and to live spiritually united to the rock of Peter, upon whom the Church is built," he said.
It remains unclear why the bishop had been detained for 12 days.
“He ordained a few priests in April and was then warned not to go on a pilgrimage during the Month of Mary in May,” said a Catholic source in Zhengding who declined to be named for security reasons, UCANews reported.
Authorities have recently ordered all religious personnel — without specifying which faiths — to report their whereabouts, the source added.
Authorities also appear to have detained Father Liu Honggeng in nearby Baoding who has not been seen or heard from since talking to relatives on his mobile phone on May 7.
“His mobile is off. We Catholics have inquired from relevant government departments but in vain,” said another Church source who also declined to be named for security reasons.
Authorities also have ignored requests from the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong diocese, which demanded information on Father Liu’s whereabouts.
“Many times in the past have shown that such disappearances were acts done by the authorities,” commission spokesman Or Yan-yan told UCANews.
The underground priest was only released in August following eight years of detention without trial after he refused to join the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) in 2006.