Catholic Repression in China
Although the Communist Party of China has always sought to suppress religion, the last few years have witnessed the worst wave of persecution since the days of Mao’s cultural revolution. Aided by more capable state control mechanisms and technology, China is taking its persecution of Christians to new heights. In today’s wave of repression, many more churches are being shut down and churchgoers detained. In those that remain, the government is utilizing facial recognition surveillance to monitor the congregation of believers. More disturbing is the fact that the state is planning to rewrite the word of God to conform to its communist ideology. Despite these troubling developments, a voice of hope can still be heard as the Catholic Church stands with its faithful in China.
Repression Through Technological Control
Among China’s new high-tech tools of control are a facial recognition surveillance system and a social credit application. Churches all around China have been fitted with a 24-hour CCTV system that some say is capable of facial recognition. The largest church in Beijing was shut down last year after its pastor refused an order allowing face-recognition cameras to be installed in his pulpit. Moreover, China is discouraging religion through a social credit app dabbed ‘Study the Great Nation.’ Among its many functions, is a scoring system that ranks citizens according to their loyalty to the communist party and its ideals. Subscribing to the Catholic faith detracts from one’s social credit. If one’s credit gets too low, they cannot access permission to leave the country.
Churches Shut Down, Believers Detained
There are two forms of the Catholic Church in China. One includes the unofficial, underground Catholic churches and the other is the Patriotic Church that is controlled and sanctioned by the government. Many of the more than 10000 underground churches in China have already been shut down. In others, there are reports that crosses are being dismantled and in some cases replaced with portraits of President Xi. Government sanctioned churches have also not been spared. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Henan (which is approved by the government) had its priest detained and defrocked. Catholic Bishop Peter Shao Zhuminof Wenzhou is reported to have undergone weeks of state indoctrination and interrogation. Similarly, Catholic Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding has spent 20 years in prison for conducting mass without permission from the state.
Adding to the fact that Bibles can no longer be purchased online in China, the Chinese government is now planning a rewriting of the Scripture to suit its Communist Party agenda and ideology. The new translation is set to include annotations from Chinese sources to make it more appealing to Chinese communist ideology. In a process dabbed Sinicization, the government has sanctioned the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the Chinese Christian Council to re-orient the bible to promote socialism in a time span of five years.
The Vatican Response
In recognition of the targeted persecution of those professing the Christian faith in China, Pope Francis prayed for Chinese Catholics on May 22nd, 2019, asking Mother Mary to intercede for them. Earlier on May 13th, 2019 the Vatican Secretary of State told Chinese media that he believed that the Vatican and China could work together. Talking about Sinicization, he said that it does not have to conflict with the Christian faith and could be a means of dialogue and understanding. On September 2018, The Holy See and China signed a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops, a move that has been viewed as creating increased trust between the two sides. The agreement though is still yet to be fully implemented by the Chinese government as U.S ambassador for International Religious freedom noted that China still continues to abuse members of the Catholic faith. One such instance is a published reward by Guangzhou’s Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs offered for information of religious groups leading to the arrest of religious leaders.
Message of Hope
Saint Timothy wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12 that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Even so, there is hope for the faithful. Speaking on behalf of the Pope, the Vatican Secretary of State encouraged Catholics living in China to take courage as they proclaim the gospel. Pope Francis encouraged all Catholic faithful in China telling them that our Heavenly Mother will come to their aide as they fight to be in the communion of the universal Church.