Catholics at Wenzhou's underground Qiao Tau Mang Church are visible in their charitable outreach as well as their devotion. (Anthony Law)
In the face of persecution, Wenzhou's underground church carries on.
A stone Virgin Mary, holding baby Jesus, awaited under the blood-red cloth, two Christmas trees beside her and lilies at her feet. Slowly, the laity of Wenzhou's underground Qiao Tau Mang Catholic Church assembled before her, singing and praying. Finally, the church leaders filed in, in full vestment. The smell of incense thickened the air as the cloth slid off, unveiling the white stone sculpture. The mood shifted from solemn to joyous; the parishioners snapped photos and embraced.
The unveiling was the highlight of last week's celebratory Mass for the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. Created by Pope Benedict XVI five years ago to offer world-wide support and encouragement to the Chinese church, the event is celebrated enthusiastically by the 80,000 unregistered Catholics in Wenzhou--the most fiercely capitalistic city in the country. Christians here have seen both persecution and progress in the last year.
In this at least, Wenzhou's underground church is representative of Chinese Catholics' situation nationwide. Last year, the government appointed two bishops not approved by the Vatican. At least 40 underground Chinese bishops are missing, deprived of their freedom, under surveillance or in hiding, according to an October report by the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China.
Two months ago, the police summoned Wenzhou's underground bishop, Peter Shao Zhumin, and his chancellor, Paul Jiang Sunian, to their offices for a talk. When they arrived, the police promptly detained them and asked their families to bring them clothes.
The authorities tried to persuade them to accept the government's restrictive religious policies and register with the Catholic Patriotic Association, the Party organization that supervises official Catholic activity in China. They even took Mr. Shao to Leshan, 1,338 miles away in Sichuan province, to meet with a government-appointed bishop not accepted by the Vatican. Both men held fast to their faith. Mr. Jiang was released after five days, and Mr. Shao was released after three weeks, on Easter Sunday. This was the most serious run-in between Wenzhou's underground community and the government in five years.
Historically, such religious repression has only toughened China's Christians. Wenzhou's underground community is no exception. Despite these troubles, in the last year, it opened a new church and increased both its membership and its charitable outreach.
"Most of the time, we are being constrained and limited, but we do not need to be afraid," a church leader said during Thursday's homily. "We have been protected by the prayer of Mary and those who believe in Christ."
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal