Sunday, May 19, 2024

A priest and a layman missing in the Diocese of Baoding

More people have been reported missing in the Diocese of Baoding (Hebei), most likely victims of restrictive measures by the authorities. The province is home to one of China’s largest underground Catholic communities.

Sources recently spoke to AsiaNews about two cases. One involves Fr Chi Huitian, a priest in Zhao County, who has been missing from home since 17 April.

“Born into a devout Catholic family, he was a keen servant of the Lord from childhood who became a priest dedicating himself to serve the parish,” said some of his parishioners. “We ask our brothers and sisters to pray for him and ask the Lord to fill him with the Holy Spirit to guide and protect him."

A few days later, on 29 April a layman of the community, Prof Chen Hekun, also disappeared, in Zhangjiakou (Hebei).

"His family and friends are looking for him," sources told AsiaNews. “We hope those who know where he is can help us. At the same time, we ask you to pray for him, that the Lord may sustain him.”

Baoding’s underground Catholic community is one of the most affected by China’s crackdown on religious freedom.

In the past, several priests have been subjected to guanzhi, a restriction on movement and activity that can last up to three years, during which they are subjected to political sessions and coercion to join the official “Catholic” bodies controlled by the Communist Party of China.

Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding too was arrested in 1997 in connection with pilgrimages to Donglu, a place linked to an alleged Marian apparition during the Boxer Revolt in 1900 and where a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of China was built at the behest of the Council of Shanghai, the historic meeting of bishops in 1924 whose centenary falls this year.

The prelate, who was born in 1932, reappeared only once after his arrest, in 2003, at a Baoding hospital. Since then, nothing is known about his fate.

The official diocese today is led by Bishop Francis An Shuxin, 77, who was auxiliary bishop of Baoding. He was arrested in 1996 and spent ten years in captivity, but then decided to leave the underground community and join the official Church. This has caused a rift within the community with underground priests and faithful no longer recognising him as their bishop.

It should be noted that the Diocese of Baoding is also where, as AsiaNews reported, local authorities adopted exceptional security measures last Christmas, such as traffic barriers and bus route diversions to avoid the cathedral area, as well as preventing children from attending Christmas Vigil and banning the display of Christmas-themed objects in university dormitories.