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08/20/2020 China (International Christian Concern) – Although COVID-19 has no longer grabbed the headlines in China, the Chinese government is using the pandemic to target underground Catholics to coerce them into joining the state-sanctioned churches. Those who fail to comply risk closure.

While most public places have open and restrictions have been lifted, the authorities continue to place churches on hold on re-opening. As the Feast of the Assumption is considered one of the major Catholic celebrations along with Christmas and Easter, hundreds were expecting to gather in their parish churches for celebrations and greetings.

However, according to UCA News, hundreds of underground Catholics in mainland China were stopped from celebrating the Feast of the Assumption on Aug. 15 in the latest example of communists suppressing Christians under cover of COVID-19.

This year most churches of the underground communities in Shenyang, Liaoning province, were closed. Officials presented it as a step to avoid large gatherings to check the spread of the virus. Even those that are open have been monitored closely by the police.

Paul Lu, a sacristan in a northern Chinese church, told UCA News that his parish was closed because of the pandemic. He said the local government has been forcing priests of his parish to join the open church. “If he fails [to do so], they threaten to shut down the church,” he said.

Jacob Zhang, president of a parish church in Hebei province, said his church has 300-400 Catholics attending Masses and about 3,000 on feast days pre-COVID-19. But for the Feast of the Assumption this year, authorities only allowed 50 people to attend Mass. Even with priests taking turns to host more parishioners, many were left out.

Zhang commented that this year’s Feast of the Assumption was the saddest for him because there was “no festive mood at all.” He angrily added, “The people from the government were just there at the door keeping an eye [on us], there was nothing we could negotiate with them. We could only walk according to their framework/rules. This is really going too far!”

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