China's Largest Megachurch Asks Believers to Pray for Pastor Jailed for Christian Faith

(Photo: REUTERS)Worshippers pray during a mass at the Liuhe Catholic Church in Liuhe village on the outskirts of Qingxu county, northern China, in this undated photo.

Hangzhou's Chongyi Church, the largest government-sanctioned church in China, has asked Christians to pray for the Rev. Gu Yuese to keep his faith in jail as he faces government persecution for protesting against the removal of church crosses.

China Christian Daily translated Chongyi's press release over the weekend that included a prayer list.

The press release "asks its congregation particularly to pray for pastor Gu Yuese: beg the Lord to help Rev. Gu keeping his faith in adversity, standing firmly in the trials of the cross."

Gu was arrested in January for protesting against the ongoing forced removal of church crosses in China. Late last week, China Aid reported that the pastor has been placed under "residential surveillance in a designated location," otherwise known as a black jail.

Communist Party officials have ordered the removal of hundreds of church crosses in a massive crackdown throughout several provinces in the country, and with Gu's arrest they have shown that not even the most prominent church leaders in China will be allowed to stand in the way of their initiative.

The government is claiming that the crosses are being removed over building code violations, but several watchdog groups, including China Aid and International Christian Concern, have said that the crackdown has more to do with the government's unease with the growing Christian population.

"His arrest marks a major escalation in the crackdown against those who oppose the forced demolition of crosses," China Aid Founder and President Bob Fu said about the pastor's arrest. "He will be the highest-ranking national church leader arrested since the Cultural Revolution."

Fu later told the Christian Science Monitor that there can be no mistaking the message the Chinese government is sending out.

"This is really quite an escalation," the China Aid founder said. "It sends a signal to silence any potential future dissenting voices from within the Church. It tells everyone to shut up."

Carsten Vala, an authority on Christianity in China at Loyola University Maryland, told readers that government authorities have also arrested a number of activists in recent months.

"What is most worrying is that the crackdown on lawyers and civil society activists is now even reaching into the circles of officially registered religious and social organizations," Vala said.

"Not just unregistered groups. After all, Pastor Gu is a leader of the official churches of the Chinese Communist Party-backed Three Self Patriotic Movement association."

Back in July, Chinese Catholics and Protestants united in a campaign to carry crosses everywhere with them in protest against the crackdown.

Chinese Christians also posted pictures of themselves on social media with crosses erected at their homes, while priests called on believers in the nation to show the government that Christians stand together in protecting the holy symbol of the cross.