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XINTAIZI, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - Finding places to attend Mass is becoming increasingly more difficult for members of the underground Catholic Church in communist China.
Zhao, a member of the underground Church, is more than 70 years old and has problems walking as she continues to search for new gathering points and encourage other underground believers to accompany her to receive the sacraments.
Sometimes, Zhao must leave her house early without breakfast and take three buses to reach the gathering point for attending Mass ever since the Communist Party of China (CPC) blocked access to her parish church before Christmas 2018 in Xintaizi in the archdiocese of Shenyang.
"When I get up, I simply grab some food and eat on the way. If I finish eating before going out, I'll be late. If I eat only after Mass, I would faint from hunger," she told UCA News. "The conditions are difficult but we can't do anything about it. The government doesn't allow any party or individual to rent a house to the church for us to attend Mass."
Zhao's experience is becoming increasingly more common for the underground faithful, as the CPC blocks access to more of their churches and gathering points.
Li, another underground believer, explained that the faithful receive short notice when a priest will be going to a believer's home to offer Mass and that they must keep their numbers small: "We have to use small places. We cannot accommodate many people as it is easy to be noticed."
Cardinal Joseph Zen told Church Militant in July that, after the secretive Vatican-China agreement was reached in September 2018, the situation worsened for the underground church:
The situation is pretty much worse. Before there was an agreement, there was a kind of compromise on many points; for example, the underground Church could have their church buildings and the underground priests, even in the cities, could say Masses for the faithful, even though the law is against that. But the authorities, for a long time, never enforced those laws. Now, they enforce those laws. So, it is a much harsher persecution after the agreement; it is terrible.
It is illegal in China to belong to a religious group that the CPC does not sanction. The official CPC sanction for the Roman Catholic Church is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
Li feels uncertain about the underground Church's future: "It seems that it can't be completely recovered. Persecution has come. The time of getting beheaded has come, but the word of God doesn't work and nobody comes forward anymore."
In spite of the uncertainty, Li recalled words of final perseverance she once heard spoken by an underground bishop close to death: "Even if persecution is coming, don't go to the CPCA. I have never been there."