Updated: April 25, 2021 05:23 PM GMT
Authorities in communist China have continued a clampdown on Christian orphanages under the guise of enforcing new regulations on religious affairs, leaving thousands of poor and disadvantaged orphans and disabled children in danger without vital support.
China enforced the new regulations in February 2018 and since then has shut down a number of Catholic and Protestant-run orphanages in various provinces, according to Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights.
Authorities have accused Christian groups of proselytizing and converting children by using charities under a repressive clause in the new regulations which says “public interest charitable activities must not be used to proselytize by any organization or individual.” It also prohibits evangelization of minors under 18.
Last week authorities in Zhaoxian in Hebei province shut down Liming Zhi Jia (House of the Dawn) orphanage run by Catholic nuns from the Sisters of the Child Jesus congregation. The orphanage was founded by former Bishop Raimondo Wang Chonglin of Zhaoxian in 1988.
The orphanage had dozens of disabled children and some adult orphans, who were forced to move to other facilities. The authorities denied permission to staff and volunteers to be in contact with the inmates.
Some speculated that the action was related to the clampdown on church facilities and structures operated by the unregistered Catholic Church in China.
An employee lamented that the center followed all government rules, yet it was shut down only because of its 'religious affiliation'
It should be noted that Bishop Wang, who died in 2010, was recognized by the Vatican but not by the state as he was not a member of the state-run Catholic Bishops’ Conference of China and Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Zhaoxian Diocese is run by an apostolic administrator as it remains without a bishop despite the secretive Vatican-China deal over bishop appointments.
Another Catholic orphanage in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, was closed down in August 2019. For more than two decades, the center served hundreds of poor orphans, garnering praise from local people.
The authorities claimed the center run by Catholic nuns from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart was involved in “illegal adoption practices” and that it was not authorized by the state.
The closure forced more than 100 children to relocate to a state-run welfare house. An employee lamented that the center followed all government rules, yet it was shut down only because of its “religious affiliation.”
In May last year, government officials in Cangzhou city in Hebei visited a Catholic orphanage and ordered its director to remove paintings of the Virgin Mary, liturgical calendars and all other religious symbols from a small church on site. The authorities ordered them to stop using the church and banned religious textbooks for the children. Earlier, the orphanage was ordered to remove the statue of Virgin Mary and a cross. The orphanage was told that “charitable institutions are not allowed to have religious overtones.”
The center was also pressured to shut down and children were transferred to other facilities, but it somehow survived.
A local churchgoer said the authorities are restricting religious activities over fears that “children might be exposed to religion.”
The crackdown on religious charities has not spared those loyal to the government either.
In December 2018, authorities in Binzhou city in Shandong province ordered the closure of a welfare house and the shifting of all inmates to a state-run institution. The center was founded in 2009 by a Catholic priest who was a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and he obtained permission from the government to run the facility.
The officials alleged that the facility didn’t meet the standards stipulated in the new regulations and that the staff in the center were believers in God and had contacts with foreigners, who are not allowed “to indoctrinate children with religion.”
Can you hear the weakest and truest voice of the Church in China?
In August 2018, officials from Dehong Dai and Jingpo in Yunnan province stormed a Christian orphanage, looted the valuables and dispersed some 80 residents.
The orphanage ran on donations from local Christians and all the teachers serving it were Christians. One of the teachers recalled that it was “heartbreaking to look at these children being ruthlessly driven out.”
Christian groups such as International Christian Concern have condemned the crackdown on Christian orphanages in China.
A Catholic priest from northern China appealed to Pope Francis to speak in defense of poor orphan children and mediate to stop the crackdown on orphanages in China.
"I would like to ask you, our Holy Father of the universal Church: Can you hear the weakest and truest voice of the Church in China?" wrote Father P. Wendao in an article published by Asia News on April 14.
The priest described what is happening with Catholic orphanages in China and how poor and disadvantaged children are being forced into state-run institutions, exposing them to risks and uncertainties.