A Catholic priest in Hebei province was recently arrested by Chinese authorities, raising the concern for a renewed wave of persecutions.
On Dec. 11, Father Wang Wenzhi - the oldest priest of the "underground" Church in the Hebei province in the Youngnian diocese- was arrested and has been held in custody since then, sources from Cardinal Kung Foundation say. He has become the fourth senior clergy from the diocese that has been captured by the Chinese authorities.
Kung Foundation also reported that the 50-year-old priest was being threatened by local officials to accept the authority of the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association. Another Italy-based Catholic newspaper AsiaNews have confirmed that Wang is being kept in isolation in a hotel and he is being subjected to brainwashing.
Prior to the detention of Wang, three other senior bishops from the Youngnian diocese were reported vanished, according to Kung Foundation. Bishop Han Dingxiang, the head of the diocese, has been taken by authorities in 1999 to an undisclosed location. Since then, he has never contacted anyone outside. Until recently, Catholics in Youngnian diocese reported that that their bishop has been moved without knowing the new location.
Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding has also disappeared in 1996; Bishop Francis An Shuxin, an auxiliary of the same diocese, has not been seen since his arrest in 1997, Kung Foundation reported.
The renewed persecutions on Hebei Catholics are believed to be triggered by the opening dialogue on the diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing government, according to Catholic World News (CWN).
"…leaders of the Patriotic Association in Hebei are motivated not only by hostility toward the underground Church but also by their determination to thwart efforts by national leaders in Beijing to open diplomatic ties with the Holy See," said CWN.
During last year, the Catholic Patriotic Association has conducted an aggressive campaign to gain control over the underground Church in Hebei, CWN added.
Geographically, the Hebei province surrounds Beijing, and is the most active center of activity for underground Catholics in China.