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AsiaNews – Persecution against the underground Church seems to be on the rise as talks about ties between China and the Vatican appear a distinct possibility, this according to an AsiaNews source who spoke about recent arrests in Hebei province.

About 20 days ago, the Religious Affairs Bureau took away Fr Gao Baojin, rector of the underground seminary in the diocese of Zhaoxian, and forced him to undergo indoctrination and brain washing courses in order that he join the Patriotic Association. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Along with Father Gao seven deacons from his seminary were also abducted; they are: Shi Jun Long, Min Zhi Yong, Shi Chen Guang, Liu Zhong Feng, Liu Yun Tao, Huang Yu Tao, and Lu Yan Hui.

They, too, had to underground indoctrination courses in Beijing and Xing Tai ( Hebei ), but were freed last Saturday.

During their captivity they had to endure sleep deprivation, were not allowed to use the bathroom, and were not allowed to take medication. They were indoctrinated day and night about the government religious policies.

The officials who had them abducted wanted to force them to sign a statement whereby they expressed their willingness to be ordained by a state-nominated bishop rather than one who is in communion with the Pope. But the seminarians did not give in.

According to AsiaNews’s Hebei sources, Mgr Wang Chunlin, bishop of the Zhaoxian diocese, was also subjected to pressures and denied the right to ordain.

Another Hebei bishop Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, bishop of Zhengding, was forced to attend the same “study sessions” for weeks on end to get him to join the Patriotic Association.

Currently, seminarians from his and neighbouring dioceses are forced to endure the same treatment.

Local sources told AsiaNews that a full-blown campaign is underway to forcibly absorb the underground Church into the official Church. For this aim, the campaign is trying to force the underground clergy into the Patriotic Association, which is a tool of the Communist Party’s to control the lives of Christian communities. Among its goals is the creation of a Catholic Church that is independent of the Holy See and the Pope.

Chinese Church sources told AsiaNews that the campaign against underground Catholics has intensified as rumours about possible diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican spread more and more.

Should they actually get underway, the fate of the Patriotic Association will be a hot topic. For underground Catholics, it is but a tool to split the Chinese Church . To members of the officially sanctioned Church, it is a lesser evil even though they secretly nurture ties with the Holy See.

Hence, any talk about a possible China-Vatican rapprochement sends the Patriotic Association on a war path against the underground Church.

And this is nothing new. The same occurred in 1999 when some prominent voices in Beijing mentioned the imminent prospect for restoration of diplomatic relations between the two sides.

At that time, a secret report of the Communist Party encouraged officials to enforce “obedience” on priests and bishops of the underground Church. Anyone who refused to join the Patriotic Association were subjected to “a year of re-education”. Anyone refusing re-education would be banned from “exercising any spiritual function”.

However, critical voices against the Patriotic Association have started to be heard even within the official Church.

And the Vatican itself, through its secretary of State Card Angelo Sodano, announced on October 25 that “the Holy See . . . is ready for a dialogue. . . . but we must always insist on the following notion: . . . governments have no right to tell men and women how to live their faiths.”