A file photo of village parishioners celebrating the Feast of the Assumption in China. (Photo: UCA News)
Hundreds of underground Catholics in mainland China were stopped from celebrating the Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15 in the latest example of communists suppressing Christians under cover of Covid-19.Although most public places, including movie halls, remain open, churches are yet to function in most parts of China. The Marian feast is a day of obligation for Catholics when they are required to take part in Eucharistic liturgy.Traditionally, the Feast of the Assumption is considered one of the major Catholic celebrations in China along with Christmas and Easter, when hundreds gather in their parish churches for solemn liturgical celebrations and exchange greetings. However, this year most churches of the underground communities in Shenyang, Liaoning province, were closed. Officials presented it as a step to avoid large gatherings to check the spread of Covid-19.A few churches were opened but police beefed up patrols to restrict the number of people gathering in them, local Catholics told UCA News.However, underground priests offered Masses for smaller groups in homes, helping parishioners meet the requirements of the day of obligation.Teresa Jia, an underground parishioner, said her mother attended Mass the night before the feast day at a parishioner's home.
"The priest held Masses in several places, each with about 10 people," she said. "Things are better in Shenyang, where there are no conflicts between the underground and open churches. The government more severely suppresses the underground ones."She also attends Masses in the state-sanctioned open church because underground priests want Catholics to fulfill their obligations. But during the epidemic, "the government has tightened the restrictions on open churches too. So I don't go often."Local governments in northern China shut down churches of underground communities soon after the pandemic began to spread early this year, purportedly to control the virus. China currently has some 80,000 cases of infection.
Zhang, who was baptized some 50 years ago, said this year's Feast of the Assumption was the saddest because there was "no festive mood at all."