A Month of Mary procession is held in Shantou in Guangdong province in May 2017. Faith Weekly has been told not to report similar events this year. (ucanews.com photo)
Censorship of the biggest Catholic media outlet in China has raised concerns that Hebei province will join Henan as the main targets of the Communist Party's religious crackdown.
Faith Weekly, based in Hebei, has been ordered not to report any news about Month of Mary pilgrimages across the country.
A source who asked to be unnamed told ucanews.com that Hebei Provincial Ethnic and Religious Department had given the company verbal notification that neither its newspaper nor website should report pilgrimages in May.
Webmasters of websites in other dioceses told ucanews.com that they had submitted articles on local or inter-provincial pilgrimages to Faith Weekly but none had been published.
A Catholic called Peter said he was worried that a new wave of government religious suppression had started in Hebei.
"If the pro-government Faith Weekly cannot report pilgrimages, it might be regarded as a warning that religious policy applied to Hebei will be tightened after recent suppression against churches in Zhejiang and Henan provinces," he said.
He pointed out that authorities had targeted Zhejiang, Henan and now Hebei, all with large numbers of Christians.
According to statistics, Hebei has nearly one million Catholics, followed by Henan with 300,000 and Zhejiang with 10,000.
"If the large Christian provinces are suppressed, the small ones are easier to handle," Peter said.
Also in Hebei province, Hejian Education and Sports Bureau of Changzhou city issued a circular on May 9 asking all schools to prevent students from joining an Our Lady of Lourdes pilgrimage to Ludezhuang organized by a local church.
It even made the weekend of May 12-13 school days so that students could not go on the pilgrimage. The circular also stipulated that students could not take sick leave on the pilgrimage days.
The Ludezhuang pilgrimage honors the Virgin Mary, with thousands of people visiting there on Mother's Day, the second Sunday of May.
The latest incidents follow authorities ordering the removal of a statue of a saint from Dongertou Catholic Church in Hebei province after the ceremony "stirred a commotion on the internet."
In Henan province, churches have been seized, kindergartens closed and children prohibited from attending Mass and church services.