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Underground church priests in custody

Two still missing, one of them back in detention, after officials arrest four

Underground church priests in custody
An underground church in Heze diocese reporter, Heze

August 12, 2011

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Two of four “underground” priests detained in Shandong province last week are still in custody, Church sources said today. Father Wang Chengli, diocesan administrator of Heze diocese, is currently at a detention center in Dongming county, they said. Local Catholics say they have not heard of any further information about the priest and can only keep on praying for his release. Father Wang was taken away along with three other priests, Fathers Zhao Wuji, Sun Guicun and Li Xianyang, on August 3 from a layperson’s home. Police officers from Dongming county entered the house on the pretext of arresting a burglar and took them away. They were later interrogated by the police, religious officials and security officers from Heze city, according to the Church sources. They believe the arrests were either an attempt to force the priests to join the Catholic Patriotic Association or in connection with the open community’s plans to ordain a bishop, probably later this year. Fathers Zhao and Li were freed on August 7 and Father Sun was released a day later. “Officials warned them not to do pastoral work and administer any sacraments in Heze, otherwise they would be arrested and jailed,” said the sources. However, Father Sun was picked up again by county religious officials on August 9 and his whereabouts are still unknown. The Church sources were also worried that Father Wang would unlikely be returning to the diocese in the near future as he is the leader of the underground community. Officials probably forced or bribed the laypeople to betray the priests, who usually operate in secret, they added. They also said the arrests would not dampen their spirits, saying “we will never surrender and will keep on upholding Church principles and bearing witness for the truth.” There are only a handful of underground priests and four open priests in Heze diocese, which has been without a bishop since Bishop Joseph Wang Dianduo died in 2004. END Related reports: Officials free ‘underground’ priest

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