By FR. BERNARDO CERVELLERA
ROME (AsiaNews) — The bishop of Wenzhou (Zhejiang), the Most Rev. Peter Shao Zhumin, was seized by police and taken to an unknown location. The incident occurred April 12. Public security agents, however, have allowed the faithful to bring them some clothes to hand them over to the prelate, a sign that his kidnapping will be long term.
Bishop Shao is a bishop of the underground Church, recognized by the Holy See as an ordinary bishop of the diocese, after the death of his predecessor, Bishop Vincenzo Zhu Weifang, on September 7.
The kidnapping of Shao came just hours before the start of the Easter Triduum. One priest believes the bishop’s detention was precisely to prevent him from presiding at Easter rites, given that he is not recognized by the government. Also, sources in the Wenzhou Diocese said, “Security officials wanted to prevent Bishop Shao from contacting the open Church community in Wenzhou and exercising his episcopal authority over there, such as the blessing of oils.”
The fact closely resembles what has happened in recent days to another bishop, the Most Rev. Vincenzo Guo Xijin, also a member of the underground Church, but recognized by the Holy See as an ordinary bishop of Mindong (Fujian).
It is very likely that these enforced disappearances aim to blackmail the two prelates to convince them to join the Patriotic Association (PA), the Communist Party body which wants to establish an independent church.
In talks between China and the Holy See on an agreement on the appointment of bishops, the party continues to demand that all bishops be members of the PA, thus excluding underground bishops, who reject registration and whom the PA regards as “unreliable.”
The situations of Wenzhou and Mindong represent a dangerous exception that the Ministry of Religious Affairs wants to stamp out.
According to some experts, the prelates’ abduction and the forced education of the two to “study and learn” is pressure on the Vatican to give its endorsement of the conditions imposed by Beijing — in short that only bishops appointed independently and enrolled in the PA can exercise the ministry.
It is a very similar situation to that of the Most Rev. Thaddeus Ma Daqin, bishop of Shanghai, placed under house arrest from the day of his Ordination because he had resigned from the PA. Later, Ma seems to have retracted his positions, expressing appreciation for the PA, but he continues to be kept in isolation.
Peter Shao Zhumin, 54, has been bishop since 2007. The Diocese of Wenzhou has a history of strong division between the official and the underground Christian communities.
It is estimated that there are about 50,000 faithful in the official communities and more than 80,000 in the unofficial. There are more than 50 priests in the whole diocese.
In recent years, the Holy See sought to reconcile the communities by appointing Zhu as ordinary bishop and Shao as a bishop with right of succession. But, according to the faithful, who also love and respect Bishop Shao, “the local government does everything to keep us divided.” Shao often suffered imprisonment because of his faith. Even at the funeral of his predecessor, he was seized and unable to attend the funeral.