China’s communist authorities this week raided an underground Catholic community in Hebei province and detained two priests and at least a dozen seminarians and nuns whose whereabouts remain unknown, according to a report.
The detained priests, nuns and seminarians belong to the diocese of Baoding city, which is one of the largest and has at least 50,000 underground Catholics, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
The raid took place Monday morning, when Fr. Lu Genjun, former vicar general of Baoding, was also detained, ICC said, quoting Asia News.
The city authorities released two seminarians a few hours later, but no one knows where the others are being kept. The intention of the officials could be to force the clergy to join the state-sanctioned Catholic open church, ICC remarked.
Last month, China and the Vatican signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, drawing criticism from rights groups who warned the deal would further hamper religious freedom in the communist country.
The deal, the details of which have never been published, permits the Chinese government to propose names for new bishops to the Vatican through its state-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, with the pope having veto power on the decision.
In turn, the Vatican recognizes the legitimacy of bishops previously appointed by the Chinese government and excommunicated by the church.
China, which has more than 60 million Christians, at least half of whom worship in unregistered or “illegal” underground churches, has been cracking down on the latter for years. However, state-sanctioned churches have also been under attack.
Official government-sanctioned Christian groups are now using the Chinese pinyin initials “JD” to replace Chinese characters for “Christ” due to internet censorship, according to the U.S.-based China Aid.
Two official government-sanctioned religious organizations — the Christian Council of China and the Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant Churches of China — have updated titles and descriptions of all their books on “Tianfengshuyuan,” their official WeChat book store, reported China Aid, which exposes abuses and promotes religious freedom, human rights and the rule of law in China.
“In their official WeChat store, not only ‘Christ’ becomes ‘JD,’ ‘Jesus’ also becomes ‘YS,’ and ‘Bible’ becomes ‘SJ,’” wrote Fuzeng Xing, dean of Chung Chi Seminary of Chinese University of Hong Kong, on his Facebook page, the group noted.
In August, Chinese Communist Party officials ordered dozens of churches to replace crosses with the five-pointed star, the symbol featured on the country’s flag to represent the CCP and its role in the nation, according to the religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter.
The Two Chinese Christian Councils in a county administered by the prefecture-level city of Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province ordered its more than 70 affiliated churches to remove the cross from their official seals, the magazine said. Churches were ordered to erect the five-pointed star, which is used in all other state-run institutions, in its place.
In 2015, more than 1,000 crosses were removed from church roofs and entire church buildings were destroyed across the Zhejiang province.
The Chinese government continued its campaign against Christianity during the country’s coronavirus outbreak by destroying crosses and demolishing a church while people were on lockdown.
China is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.
The communist regime’s crackdown on religious freedom has also led the U.S. State Department to label it as a “country of particular concern” for “continuing to engage in particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
In a recent interview with The Christian Post, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo said it is “certainly the case that the Chinese Communist Party [engages in] efforts to stamp out religious freedom every place that they find.”