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Bishop and other clergy arrested

25 May 2021

Chinese authorities have arrested a Vatican-appointed Catholic bishop, seven priests, and an unspecified number of seminarians in Hebei Province, according to a report from UCANews.

The priests and seminarians were reportedly detained on 20 May for “allegedly violating the country’s repressive new regulations on religious affairs.” 63-year-old Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang Diocese was arrested the following day on 21 May.

The Xinxiang Diocese is not recognised by the Chinese authorities, and Bishop Zhang was ordained secretly in 1991 without the approval of the state-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). UCANews reports that the arrests came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary.

A subsequent article by AsiaNews states that the bishop and priests are being held in solitary confinement in a hotel, where they are undergoing “political sessions.” Students arrested at the same time have been sent back to their families and forbidden to continue studying theology, the article says.

The arrests occurred shortly before the annual Catholic World Day of Prayer for the Church in China established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Congregations and organisations around the world, including CSW, devote this day to praying for the peace and wellbeing of Christians and others in China. This year Cardinal Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, also issued a statement calling for a week of prayer for the Church in China and the peoples of China.

The detention of Bishop Zhang and the priests and seminarians also follows the introduction of new administrative measures on religious staff which came into effect on 1 May. The new regulations include specific requirements on the qualifications of religious staff, and Article 16 states that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference. One human rights lawyer described the measures as “one more weapon in [the Chinese authorities’] arsenal to limit or further persecute the religious communities.”

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW condemns these arrests, which follow the introduction of the new regulations on religious staff and appear to confirm fears that restrictions on religious communities will continue to tighten. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these Christians, and all those detained across China on account of their religion or belief. We also encourage the international community to raise this and other cases of arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders, including Elder Zhang Chunlei of Love Church and Pastor Yang Hua of Living Stone Church, with the Chinese government at every opportunity.”



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