HEBEI, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - A public gathering of thousands of underground Chinese Catholics is being hailed as miraculous after Communist authorities did nothing to interrupt the illegal activities.
In what is being praised as "protection from Heaven," around 10,000 faithful congregated outside the Zhengding cathedral on December 13 to celebrate the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy and the opening of the cathedral's Holy Door, while police made no attempt to halt the ceremony and no arrests were made.
The celebration, which lasted four hours, consisted of a procession, a reading of "Misericordiae Vultus," the papal Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy, and the opening of the Zhending Holy Door. The ceremony concluded with a eucharistic service.
"It is amazing that so many people could gather for so long and no one was arrested," said one nun who was present. "It is likely that there were plainclothes police mingled with the crowd, but nothing happened."
The gathering was led by Msgr. Jia Zhiguo, who is not recognized by the Chinese government and has been under house arrest for years. These measures are allegedly on account of Msgr. Zhiguo's refusal to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a Communist Party ministry created in 1957 to institute a Catholic church separate from the Pope.
Zhiguo, who is 80 years old, lives near the cathedral and is under non-stop surveillance from government authorities. Despite this, he is reportedly well-liked by the local police and for years he housed and took care of as many as 200 orphans and disabled people at a time in his own home with the assistance of nuns and laypeople.
The underground Catholic community in China has for years faced persecution from the country's Communist government, which has made it a crime to participate in religious activities not sanctioned by authorities. Priests discovered to be involved in these illegal events are often imprisoned or forced to attend weeks of indoctrination classes. Additionally, faithful prelates are often given bribes and faced with much pressure to join the CCPA.
Monsignor Zhiguo himself, consecrated a bishop in 1980, was arrested 12 times between 2004 and 2009 and has spent a collective 18 years in Chinese prisons.
According to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, dedicated to monitoring the treatment of Catholics in China, there are currently 25 underground bishops in the country, a drop from 40 in 2009. Each one of them is "either in jail, under house arrest, under strict surveillance, or in hiding," and oftentimes bishops will randomly disappear and never be heard from again.
In 2007 Pope Benedict wrote of the persecution in China: "It must not be forgotten that many bishops have undergone persecution and have been impeded in the exercise of their ministry, and some of them have made the Church fruitful with the shedding of their blood."