Rome: August 2, 2007. At least 11 priests from the underground church are being held in arrest in various regions throughout China. AsiaNews sources confirm that since last May their conditions have worsened due to Letter of Pope to faithful.
In Hebei, Zhejiang and central Mongolia all of the activities of the underground church, not recognised by the government have been blocked. During the summer the priests dedicate their time to youth meetings and catechesis, but police controls and the arrest of several priests have rendered their work impossible.
In the afternoon of July 24, 2007, in the Ximeng region of Inner Mongolia, three underground priests from Xiwanzi, Hebei were arrested by police. They are Father Liang Aijun, 35 years old, Chong Li county, Father Wang Zhong, 41 years old, Gu Yuan county, and Father Gao Jinbao, 34 years old, Shang Yi county. According to AsiaNews sources the three were in Mongolia on mission.
In Hebei, Fr. Liu Tai, 50 years, it was arrested in Zhoulu county.
Local AsiaNews sources affirm that this series of arrests is "a government answer to the Pope's Letter". The sources note in fact a hardening of both the police and Patriotic Association which corresponds to the publishing of the Letter, set for May 27, the feast of Pentecost (then distributed on June 30th).
Weeks before Pentecost the police decreed solitary confinement for several Hebei priests who had been held in labour camps, forbidding relatives to visit them. According to the same sources, there are 6 priests serving sentences of 3 years for illegal religious activities. Until May last visits were permitted and relatives brought them food and clothing.
A clamp down has also been registered in Zhejiang. Father Jiang Sunian, Wenzhou diocese chancellor, who had been promised early release due to ill health, will have to remain in prison until the end of his sentence that is until the end of August 2007. Fr. Jiang was arrested last August for having falsified his passport to allow him travel on pilgrimage to Rome.
According to local priests, the violence against the underground Church shows the Chinese authorities contempt for Benedict XVI's courageous offer of a hand of friendship. They also recall that in '99 during a period of dialogue between China and the Vatican on the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations, there were also arrests and a clamp down. A secret Communist Party document, dated August 17th 1999, decreed that "whatever the future of Sino-Vatican relations be" the underground Church had to be brought to obedience, through the re-education of the Patriotic Association. The document stated that all those refusing to be "re-educated would be denied the right to carry out their priestly activities". Those responsible for illegal or subversive activities [such as celebrating mass in non registered placed, or in homes; carrying out processions without permission, etc..] "will be severely dealt with by authorities".