ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: November 13, 2018 11:27 AM GMT
A file image of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou. The bishop was taken away by authorities on Nov. 9. (Photo supplied)
Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of the underground church in eastern China has been taken away by religious authorities.
It is the eighth time the bishop, of Wenzhou Diocese in Zhejiang province, has been detained since 1999 when he was a priest.
A source called John told ucanews.com that the 55-year-old bishop was taken away on the morning of Nov. 9 by personnel of Yueqing Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau.
"The authorities did not explain the reason, only saying that the bishop would be returned to the diocese within 10 to 15 days," he said.
But he suspected the reason might be related to the Wenzhou faithful commemorating Bishop James Lin Xili at his grave in Yueqing.
Bishop Lin, the first bishop of Wenzhou, was secretly ordained on Oct. 4, 1992. The underground bishop died on Oct. 4, 2009, the 17th anniversary of his ordination.
John said that on Nov. 4 Bishop Shao and three priests went to Yueqing to concelebrate a Mass in front of Bishop Lin's tomb in an event attended by 500 lay people.
"Personnel of Yueqing Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau and security personnel were on the spot watching. After the Mass, Bishop Shao and one of the priests were called to talk and asked why so many church members of Wenzhou had attended," said John.
A Mass concelebrated by Bishop Shao Zhumin and three priests was held in front of Bishop Lin Xili’ grave in Yueqing on Nov 4. (Photo supplied)
From Nov. 1-8 every year, members of parishes in Wenzhou Diocese go to Yueqing to commemorate the late bishop and priests who were buried there, he said.
John said the concern of Yueqing authorities was unprecedented and he wondered whether it was related to a recent visit by a religious inspection team sent by the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
"The Wenzhou Religious Affairs Bureau has always wanted to charge the bishop, but there is no way. They have kicked this hot potato to the Yueqing bureau," said Thomas, another source.
He said authorities originally wanted to take Bishop Shao on Nov. 4 but the bishop told them he would be busy until Nov. 8 and begged not to go with them at once.
Thomas also said authorities "previously would inform the bishop to go to have a talk and would call us to send clothes and daily necessities the next day, but this time they did not."
John said the parish is praying for Bishop Shao as "we don't know if the bishop will return in the time they said."
Bishop Shao was first taken away by the government in 1999. Before he was confirmed in his episcopacy by the Vatican following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, in September 2016, he was taken away five times.
He was detained by security officials for "sightseeing" to prevent him from presiding at the funerals of Bishop Zhu and Bishop Anthony Xu Jiwei of Taizhou in September 2016.
On April 12, 2017, authorities once again took Bishop Shao to prevent him from presiding at a Mass to consecrate the holy oil on Holy Thursday. He was released five days later but taken away again on May 10.
On Sept. 11, 2017, Bishop Shao said on his WeChat account that he was in a hospital to have ear surgery and urged people not to visit him but to keep him in their prayers. However, it was not until Jan. 3, 2018, that authorities ended his custody.
The government has repeatedly asked Bishop Shao to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) but he has declined because he believes the CCPA's principles are inconsistent with Catholic doctrine.
Zhejiang is one of the most important Christian provinces in China and is estimated to have about 2 million Christians. Wenzhou City in the province is known as "China's Jerusalem." The city has about 150,000 Catholics but has been closely monitored and suppressed by authorities for a long time.