Police arrest Catholic bishop, 7 priests, ten seminarians in China

Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang was arrested on Friday, a day after seven priests and ten seminarians were taken by the police

Authorities in China arrested Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang on Friday, May 21, a day after seven priests and ten seminarians were taken by the police.

A report on the Italian news site AsiaNews said at least a hundred police officers surrounded the building that was used as a diocesan seminary in Hebei in the afternoon of May 20.

The police reportedly entered the building and arrested four priests, seminary professors, and three other priests who were in the building together with 10 seminarians.

The Apostolic Prefecture of Xinxiang is not recognized by the Chinese government and the activities of priests, seminarians, and the faithful are considered “illegal” and “criminal.”

The report said police and security officials continued to search for other seminarians who might have escaped the raid.

House searches were also being done and those who were found to have crosses, statues, sacred images, photos of the pope, and other religious items were fined.

On Sunday, Pope Francis called on the faithful to pray for the Church in China as Chinese Catholics celebrate the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians on Monday, May 24.

The pontiff invited the faithful to “accompany” Christians in China, “whom I hold in the depth of my heart,” with “fervent prayer.”

Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit guide the faithful in China “and help them to be bearers of the happy message, witnesses of goodness and charity, and builders of justice and peace in their country.”

The pope cited the devotion of Chinese Catholics to “the Mother of the Lord [and] of the Church” at her sanctuary of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Under the title of Our Lady of Sheshan, the Blessed Virgin Mary “is assiduously invoked by Christian families in the trials and hopes of daily life.”

“How good and how necessary it is that the members of a family and of a Christian community are ever more united in love and in faith,” said Pope Francis.

“In this way, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, pastors and faithful can follow the example of the first disciples who, on the solemnity of Pentecost, were united in prayer with Mary as they awaited the Holy Spirit,” he added.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Catholics around the world to mark the Feast of Mary Help of Christians on May 24 as a “Day of Prayer for the Church in China.”

In a Letter to the Chinese faithful, he encouraged Chinese Catholics to celebrate the day “by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible.”

Last year, Pope Francis marked the Day of Prayer for the Church in China by assuring Chinese Catholics that “the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in your trials.”

The pope prayed that the Chinese faithful “might be strong in faith and steadfast in fraternal union, joyful witnesses, promoters of charity and hope, and good citizens.”

In October last year, the Holy See and China’s government renewed a “provisional agreement” concerning the appointment of Catholic bishops for the Church in China.

The agreement aims primarily at “sustaining and promoting the proclamation of the Gospel in that land, restoring the full and visible unity of the Church.”

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