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05/25/2021 China (International Christian Concern) – In two days, almost the entirety of the clergy working at the apostolic prefecture of Xinxiang were taken out by a large police operation.

On May 20, 100 policemen from the Hebei province entered a small factory building in the town of Shaheqiao, which was being used as a seminary, and arrested four priests who are seminary professors, and three other priests who carry out pastoral work. Additionally, ten students attending the seminary were arrested. Three managed to escape but were later arrested as well. The seminary students were released to their families and forbidden to continue studying theology.

On May 21, the bishop of Xinxiang, Msgr. Giuseppe Zhang Weizhu, 63, was arrested. He has served as the bishop of the diocese of Xinxiang since 1991.

The bishop and the 10 priests arrested were taken to a hotel, where they were held in solitary confinement. On May 23, they were subjected to “political sessions,” which are brainwashing sessions designed to inculcate the principles of religious freedom granted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Since the apostolic prefecture of Xinxiang is not recognized by the Chinese government, its existence is considered “illegal” and “criminal.” Given the size of the police force deployed, it is believed that the raid on the seminary and the arrests of the priests and bishop were part of a carefully planned operation.

In China, the New Regulations on Religious Activities, released by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs in February 2021, just came into effect on May 1. Article 16 states that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Clergy must support the leadership of the CCP and must regularly apply for recertification. The new regulations allow religious activities (including seminaries) only in government registered and controlled institutions.

Bishop Weizhu and the ten arrested priests are considered “criminals” under the New Regulations since they are not recognized by the Chinese government or “submitted” to the CCP. Since the establishment of these New Regulations, there has been an increase in persecution, especially against “unofficial” religious communities.

Despite the renewal of a provisional agreement with the Vatican on bishop appointment last October, China continues to violate the Sino-Vatican deal while cracking down on Catholics who show loyalty to the Holy See.

For interviews, please contact Addison Parker: [email protected].