FUIJAN PROVINCE, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Chinese government is stifling a Catholic bishop's attempt to celebrate Chrism Mass, continuing the government's persecution of legitimate Catholicism in the nation.
Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, ordinary of Mindong in China's eastern Fujian province, was slated to offer his first Chrism Mass Thursday. Yet the bishop, who is one of the leaders of China's underground Church, will not be in attendance.
On April 7, the bishop was called into the local religious affairs bureau in Fuan. Almost a week later, the bishop has not returned.
"The security bureau informed the diocese that the provincial religious affairs bureau asked him to attend a learning class for 20 days," said a local priest talking to UCA News. He asked not to be named.
Without the bishop in attendance, it's unlikely the Mass will proceed.
Bishop Vincent is one of the Chinese "underground" bishops recognized by the Vatican but not approved of by the Chinese state. The state has recognized a church community in the diocese led by the government-appointed "bishop" Vincent Zhan Xilu. Zhan, however, is one of seven government-appointed bishops the the Vatican has refused to recognize.
A majority of the estimated 80,000 Catholics in the bishop's diocese belong to the underground Church and are served by about 50 priests and 100 nuns.
The persecution of Chinese Catholics is severe. Catholic leaders in China are forced to register with the Catholic Patriotic Association, a government blacklist that authorities have frequently used to arrest Catholics who run afoul of the totalitarian state.
Church Militant has reported on the continuing persecution in China. In 2016, officials announced that Christians who attend churches not approved by the government would no longer be eligible for public welfare or any kind of government insurance.
The Chrism Mass is foremost a sign of the unity between a bishop and his priests and attendance is encouraged for all diocesan priests. The Mass marks the institution of the priesthood and the Holy Mass itself. Recognizing its importance, Pope Paul VI introduced to the liturgy of this Mass a renewal of vows that priests recite.
Shuttering the Maundy Thursday Mass is a clear message from the government that Chinese Catholics must respect the illegitimate government-appointed bishops.
Yet brave Chinese Catholics have embraced their crosses. Their continued resistance to illegitimate bishops has shown they will not be passive observers to government attempts to stifle or defang the Church. Their witness gives inspiration to Christians worldwide during this Easter Triduum.