Christians in China are once again under attack by the CCP after authorities arrested a Vatican-appointed bishop, seven priests, and a number of seminarians in May.
CCP police took Joseph Zhang Weizhu, a 63-year old bishop of the Xinxiang Diocese in Henan province on May 21, just 24 hours after the priests and seminarians were detained. The Christian leaders were accused of violating China's repressive measures against religious gatherings.
Now, many more fear that there will be increasing persecution of Christians in the coming days, if not months.
Bishop Zhang and the priests were taken by CCP police after they were found to have used an abandoned factory as a seminary for the formation of priests, Catholic Philly reported. They were then charged with violating China's new rules that were implemented in May, which required all clergy to register with the state to be allowed to serve their congregation.
Under the new rules, religious groups are forbidden to participate in activities or worship in places that are not controlled or registered under the communist government of China.
According to UCA News, the Xinxiang Diocese where Bishop Zhang served was not recognized by CCP authorities despite the Vatican establishing it back in 1936. The bishop was secretly ordained in 1991 after his appointment by the Vatican was not approved by the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), two organizations that are state-run.
The new rules established by the CCP took effect this month and do not recognize the Sino-Vatican deal, which supposedly enabled the appointing of bishops through a mutual agreement to avoid conflict between Vatican mandate and state appointments.
According to media reports, over 100 CCP police surrounded the abandoned building before Bishop Zhang was arrested. National Catholic Reporter said that the deployment of CCP police continues while a manhunt is ongoing for the other seminarians who allegedly fled to avoid getting captured and detained.
"These arrests appear to confirm fears that restrictions on religious communities will continue to tighten," Christian Solidarity Worldwide founding president Mervyn Thomas told Catholic Philly. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of these Christians and all those detained across China on account of their religion or beliefs. We also encourage the international community to raise this and other cases of arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders."
In response to fears of CCP's continued and increasing persecution of Christians in China, Pope Francis called upon the faithful all over the world to pray for Chinese Christians who he admitted he "[carries] in the depth of [his] heart."
Pope Francis said, "Therefore, I invite you to accompany with fervid prayer the Christian faithful in China, our dearest brothers and sisters, whom I carry in the depth of my heart. May the Holy Spirit, protagonist of the Church's mission in the world, guide them and help them to be bearers of the Good News, witnesses of goodness and charity, and builders of justice and peace in their country."
The pope expressed his desire to see Christian communities "united in love and in faith" throughout the trials faced by many across the world.