Churches refusing to join the Patriotic Catholic Association are repurposed for cultural or propaganda centers, as congregation members are driven away.
by Tang Zhe
Since the signing of the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the CCP has been increasingly suppressing unregistered Catholic churches by closing them down for refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). Many places of worship have been forcefully repurposed and turned into venues for secular activities or CCP’s propaganda centers.
On July 26, 2019, the Religious Affairs Bureau of Sonid Right Banner, under the administration of the Xilin Gol League in Inner Mongolia issued an order to close down an unregistered Catholic church in the area for “lacking the religious venue registration certificate” and “substandard fire control measures.” According to a source, after the closure notice was posted, officials from the neighborhood committee repeatedly inspected the church, sending video reports to their superiors.
To continue practicing their faith, the congregation held several meetings in the churchyard but were soon driven away. They would also sometimes sneak inside the church to worship late at night or early in the morning.
Believers are gathering in the churchyard.An elderly believer told Bitter Winter that she would wake up often during the night, afraid to miss the time for the secret prayer service early in the morning. “I don’t get enough sleep. I’m afraid this will have an effect on my health with time,” the believer complained.
The local government attempted to bribe the church’s dean, hoping to force him into joining the CPCA. A congregation member was deprived of the subsistence allowance because she objected to the raising of the national flag in the church.
When all these intimidations failed, on September 8, the Sonid Right Banner government dispatched over 40 personnel to seize all the church’s assets, including holy paintings, spiritual books, and over 60 benches.
A congregation member who witnessed the raid told Bitter Winter that one of the officials said to them mockingly to “ask the Roman Pope to give the money to support their living.”
“The government took away all religious books and Mary’s portraits. They want to eliminate our religion and forbid us from believing in God,” another believer said with anger.
In March 2019, a Catholic church in Bixi, a town in Taihe county, administered by Ji’an city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, was taken over by the government and converted into a cultural activity center. The church was built in 2014 at the cost of nearly 100,000 RMB (about $ 14,000) collected by local Catholics.
A local believer told Bitter Winter that 14 holy paintings and the crucifix were taken down, and CCP’s propaganda slogans and Xi Jinping’s quotes were posted on the walls instead. The crucifix was put in a cabinet. “Red” and secular books, like “The Outline for Learning Socialist Ideology,” “Inherit the Red Gene and Practice Original Intention and Mission,” were placed on the shelves in the church.
The believer also said that congregation members were threatened with arrest if anyone tried to tear down these slogans; priests could also face detention had they dared to preach. Some believers sometimes sneaked into the church to take the statue of Jesus from the cabinet and pray in front of it, putting it back after they were done.
Ever since the church was repurposed, the local authorities started organized various performances there. Government officials also visited congregation members at home, forcing them to sign statements renouncing their faith. In one of the houses, officials forcibly took down a painting of the Last Supper and a liturgical calendar, which were then thrown into a dust bin.
In November, an unregistered Catholic church in Futang village under the jurisdiction of Bixi town was occupied by the government, and a sign, “Futang Village Cultural Activity Room,” was hung above its entrance.
A Catholic from the village told Bitter Winter that a local government official registered the personal information of all, visiting them at home, and said to them that the government was hunting for the church’s priest for refusing to join the CPCA. He even threatened to arrest and imprison the believers if they went to the church again.
“The government urges us to join the CPCA so that the Communist Party would be our master. If not, you are not allowed to believe in God. They want to eliminate all churches that are not controlled by them,” a priest from an unregistered Catholic church told Bitter Winter. “Even though the regime has occupied our church, they cannot take away our faith.”