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Priest’s arrest state secret

HONG KONG (UCAN): Forty-year-old Father Fei Jisheng, from the official Church community in Liaoning in China, was arrested and charged with stealing money donated for charitable purposes on October 18.

However, the local Catholic community believes the authorities are clamping down on what they regard as his involvement in an outreach programme mostly carried on away from the public eye.

Father Fei was visiting a convent in Fushun City in northeastern Liaoning province when police issued him with the arrest warrant.

“Now we were told that Father Fei has stolen a money box from a home for elderly people,” Father Dong Hongchang, the vicar general of Liaoning, said.

Father Dong believes the arrest of his colleague may be related to a programme called the Apostolic Class which Father Fei was promoting enthusiastically. The government views it as an illegal underground organisation.

Father Dong surmises that because the police failed to find an excuse to charge Father Fei when they detained him in June, he would not be subjected to any physical harm, but he still believes that his case is sensitive.

Father Fei was briefly abducted by the authorities in November last year for unstated reasons. Then on June 6 this year, he was again detained along with four others for attempting to spread the faith outside of his own diocese. He was released a month later.

A lawyer hired by the diocese met with Father Fei at a detention centre of Gaizhou City on October 24.

The online Evangelisation Group posted an appeal on its WeChat account on October 27 giving more details of Father Fei’s arrest.

The chief of police told Father Fei’s lawyer that his case is related to religious issues and is a state secret. The online group claims that Father Fei has now been banned from meeting with his lawyer or relatives and all documents sent to him must go through the hands of the police chief.

The group is questioning how a religious issue can be a state secret and what religious directive the priest has violated.

Unlike the unofficial Church community, which is regarded as outside the law, Father Fei belongs to the government-registered official Church community.

However, some people in the Church are not that thrilled about the Apostolic Class programme that he started in 2007 either.

The programme has spread across China and is particularly active in Liaoning and northern Hebei province.

The website of the Xianxian diocese says that Father Fei was inspired to set up the movement by a Protestant, who encouraged him to use his life to make an impact on the lives of others.

“Their way of evangelisation is more like the Protestant Churches with added elements of the Catholic charismatic movement, which itself is controversial, so the Apostolic Class draws a lot of criticism within the Chinese Church and not everyone accepts it,” one person, who asked not to be named, commented.

“Some clergy that do not like the Apostolic Class crossing borders into their parishes or dioceses might ask security officers to crack down. This is the complexity of the Church,” the person added.

Father Dong said that the Apostolic Class is successful at winning converts, but Father Fei should have considered the situation of the Church in China more carefully.

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