Catholics are upset about a directive from China's communist government asking priests to "preach on patriotism" as a condition for reopening liturgical services, suspended five months ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Chinese Catholic educational administration committee of Zhejiang province jointly issued a notice on May 29 on the resumption of liturgical activities.
"Religious places that meet the conditions of epidemic prevention will resume services from June 2," it said while adding the patriotism requirement.
Father Liu of Hebei said it is certainly a good thing to resume church activities. "But the first requirement in the notice is to teach a good lesson on patriotism. It is wrong. As members of the universal Catholic Church, we cannot accept and glorify what communists consider patriotic education," he told UCA News.
Jacob Chung, a Wenzhou parishioner, said the government's move "has seriously interfered in the internal affairs of religion."
A church observer in China who sought anonymity said the government was forcing religious leaders to add patriotism and sinicization as part of religious teaching.
Amid the ongoing trade war with other countries and an economic slowdown at home, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) "is afraid of a counter-revolution. So they want to people to hold on to patriotism," he said.
He said the CCP wants to "suppress and transform" the Church to sing the communist tune lest Christians criticize the regime.
Religious activities have been gradually resuming since June 2 in Sichuan province, Shaanxi province and Shanghai after the Joint Conference of National Religious Organizations held a video conference on May 30 about plans to reopen religious places.
The other terms in the notice issued by Zhejiang authorities, however, are associated with preventive measures against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The notice asked churches to avoid non-essential religious activities, reduce the number of participants and shorten religious activities.
In some provinces such as Sichuan, Christians were asked to seek authorities' permission to resume religious classes.
Philip, a Shanghai parishioner, told UCA News that local churches plan to reopen on June 13.
Shanghai Diocese has issued a circular limiting the number of people attending services and outlining preventive measures against the pandemic.
Paul Fang from Wenzhou Diocese in Zhejiang province said parishioners have been looking forward to the resumption of Masses. His parish has already purchased temperature checkers, masks, disinfectant and other items.
As the number of people is limited, the parish priest has decided to increase the frequency of daily Masses, Fang said.
Father Joseph of Shaanxi province said the possibility of people attending Mass "is better than them watching it online.”