Baoding Catholics remember detained clergy during Holy Week
April 09 2009
Catholics of Baoding diocese in the northern Hebei province have spent Holy Week praying for their bishop, vicar general and seven other priests who have been detained for years.
The whereabouts of Bishop James Su Zhimin (Zhemin), 74, and Vicar General Father Joseph Lu Genjun, 46, are unknown. They were detained in 1997 and 2006 respectively. Both have refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The other Baoding priests were detained at different times and are being held without trial at Qingyuan county detention center, sources said.
Church sources have described Baoding as "a stronghold of the underground Catholics" and that the authorities want to reduce the influence of their priests.
Baoding Catholics have always prayed for the safety and return of their detained bishop and priests, and such prayers were more fervently offered during Holy Week, which started on Palm Sunday, April 5. A layperson named James said families are taking turns praying for this intention from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April 6 through Good Friday, April 10.
Sources said Baoding Catholics also found comfort in the April 2 Vatican press statement denouncing the March 30 arrest of Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, who heads a neighboring diocese also in Hebei. The statement, issued after the March 30-April 1 plenary meeting of the Vatican´s Commission for the Catholic Church in China, notes the arrest was not an isolated case. "Other ecclesiastics too are also deprived of their liberty and are subjected to undue pressures and limitations in their pastoral activities," it says, and adds these clergymen are remembered with "fraternal closeness" and "constant prayer in this Lenten period."
Meanwhile, sources said local Catholics could not get government approval to release Father Lu temporarily to see his father before he passed away on Dec. 25, 2008, or attend the funeral.
Father Lu, who has been praised as "a man of virtue and strength," had been detained several times since 1998. Sources say the authorities may be worried he could be made a bishop.
Bishop Su has also not been seen since his arrest except once in November 2003, when he was hospitalized in Baoding city.
The other seven detained priests are: Father Pang Guangzhao, who was detained in 2003 on his way to visit Father Lu; diocesan administrator Father Huo Junlong and Father Ma Wuyong, both detained in 2004 while attending a retreat; and Fathers Jiang Yanli, Wang Quanjun, Wang Xiongwei and Liu Honggeng. The dates and circumstances surrounding the last three priests' detentions are not clear.
The Baoding underground Church community has also not been entirely united in recent years.
Auxiliary Bishop Francis An Shuxin joined the government-approved Church community upon his release in 2006 after more than 10 years under house arrest. He claimed the move was for communion and development of the two communities, and the Holy See also supports such moves toward reconciliation.
Sources said some Baoding Catholics were unhappy about his decision and wondered why he did not demand that the government release Bishop Su as a condition of Bishop An joining the "open" Church.