State security officials seized two priests and more than a dozen nuns and seminarians from an underground Catholic community in Baoding, Hebei Province, China. The abduction happened not long after the renewal of the provisional agreement between the Vatican and China.
Authorities raided the Baoding Diocese on Nov. 2 and forcibly took the said members of the clergy, a report from the International Christian Concern said. A few hours later, they released two seminarians, but the others remain detained in an unknown location.
Father Lu Genjun, Baoding Diocese's former vicar general, disappeared on the same day. His whereabouts are also unknown. It is believed that he was taken into custody by the authorities, as state security officials had done so several times in the past.
In 1990, just a few months after he was ordained, Father Lu was incarcerated. In 2000, he was once more taken into custody and brought to the Gao Yang labor camp, where he was kept for three years. In 2004, he was arrested again. And in February 2006, he was incarcerated along with other priests. He was released in 2014.
Catholic church leaders believe these incidents are meant to pressure them into joining the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The Baoding Diocese is one of the biggest underground Catholic churches in China with more than 500,000 people attending, according to Asia News.
It has been a constant target of state security. Msgr. Giacomo Su Zhimin, the bishop of Baoding Diocese, went missing in 1997 and had not been heard from since. Francesco An Shuxin, the coadjutor bishop, was imprisoned for 10 years. Eventually, he decided to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
China's religious crackdown has affected many Catholic churches in the country. Recently, eight nuns in Shanxi Province were forced to leave their convent because of persistent harassment and surveillance by the authorities.
The nuns were ordered to remove the cross in the convent and were told that the convent would be demolished if they didn't obey. They had no choice but to comply.
"The cross is a symbol of salvation. Removing it felt like cutting our own flesh," one nun said, according to Catholic News Agency.
She also said they had been labeled as "dangerous persons." Officials installed cameras in the convent to monitor their activities.
"Three persons, a police officer and two local officials, were assigned to keep watch over us," she added. State security officials also constantly visited the convent to ask them questions.
"They often went inside the convent to inquire about our activities, sometimes at night. The government even hired some thugs and ruffians to harass us. They would get into the kitchen while we cooked to mess around or act lasciviously, inviting us to have dinner with them," the nun said.
A few months ago, authorities placed priests from the Yujiang diocese in Jiangxi Province under house arrest for refusing to join the state-sanctioned Catholic church. They were also prohibited from "engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of clergy." The bishop, Lu Xinping, was not allowed to hold mass, while the priests under house arrest were put under surveillance.