The Year of The Dog and The Church in China


Universe Column for January 29th 2006

by David Alton

Today marks Chinese New Year It is the Year of the Dog  and traditionally the Chinese have believed that those born in that year are loyal, honest and trustworthy.

Many Chinese also believe  the Year of the Dog to be a time of fairness and equality – but if 2005 is anything to go by, there will have to be a major sea-change if persecuted Chinese Christians are to be treated fairly as equal citizens by the Communist Government.

All the indications are that the Chinese Religious Affairs Bureau will continue to clamp down on any who refuse to register with the official Catholic Patriotic Association.

The millions who belong to the underground Catholic Church pay a high price for their loyalty to the Pope.  All of the approximately 40 bishops are either in jail, under house arrest, under strict surveillance or in hiding according to the Catholic Cardinal Kung Foundation (CKF).

One of these bishops is Jia Zhiguo, the underground Bishop of the Zhengding diocese in Hebei, north eastern China. He is now 70 and he has spent some 20 years in prison for his faith. He was arrested on November 8 at home and security personnel told his church he was being taken away for a ‘study session’. As well as leading his diocese, Bishop Jia looks after some 100 handicapped orphans in his home. This is the eighth time he has been arrested since 2004.

Six underground Roman Catholic priests in his diocese were arrested in November according to the CKF.

Two of them, Father Wang Jin Shan and Father Gao Lingshen, both in their 50s, were badly beaten.

Two other priests were arrested after celebrating a Mass to mark the end of the Eucharistic year.

Fr Shao Zhumin and Fr Paul Jiang Sunian were detained by public security officers at the end of October after holding a mass for a congregation of around 600 in the eastern Zhejiang province.

A violent incident late in 2005 has left members of a religious community with lasting injuries.

A group of 16 nuns from the School of the Rosary in Xian diocese, central China, was brutally attacked as they tried to defend their building from demolition. The building had been confiscated during the Cultural Revolution and the Xian authorities had sold it to a private business, rather than returning it to the nuns, breaking Chinese law.

The Franciscan missionary nuns were set upon by a group of 40 young men armed with wooden sticks. One of the nuns lost her sight and another risks permanent paralysis after suffering a fractured vertebra.

According to reports from Asia News, Government officials did all they could to prevent news of the attack reaching the outside world.

After prolonged local complaints and international advocacy, state officials have agreed to investigate the beating and have arrested 11 people. The government has also agreed to cover all the nuns’ medical costs.

There are real problems for Catholics who wish to remain loyal to the Pope. The official church is run by the State Council’s Religious Affairs Bureau and does not accept the authority of Pope Benedict.

The government authorities are determined to try to force underground believers to register with the state-approved church. This explains many of their clampdowns on the underground church.

Joseph Kung, President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, said: “Obviously, the intensified horror campaign by the Chinese government to force the underground Church religious and faithful to register with the official Patriotic Church is actively ongoing. I call once again urgently on the Olympic Committee to take note of these arrests and to consider cancelling the Games in China in 2008 in order to preserve its good name and spirit.”

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “We are deeply troubled by the persecution that the Christians are suffering simply for peacefully following their faith. If the Chinese authorities want the international community to believe they respect religious freedom they need to act decisively to bring an end to the many violations of religious freedom taking place across China.”

As the Year of the Dog begins, Christian Solidarity Worldwide will be joining with Jubilee Campaign in continuing to support the persecuted church in China. Both charities take part in the annual Commission on Human Rights at the UN and have brought representatives from the Chinese Church to speak for themselves about the persecution they face.

Having seen the situation first hand I not only attest the courage of these brave Chinese Christian but believe we should all do far far more to support groups like CSW in the work it does for the persecuted church in China.