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Priests and parish leaders picked up in Gansu

  TAINSHUI (UCAN): Security officials detained a number of priests from the unofficial communities of the Church in Tianshui, northwestern Gansu province, between August 20 and 21.

Specifically targeting leadership positions in the diocese, those picked up include the administrator, Father John Baptist Wang Ruohan, and his brother, Father John Wang Ruowang; and retired Bishop Casmir Wang Milu; as well as several other priests and dozens of lay leaders.

Local Church sources believe they are not being held in the same place, but spread around several detention centres. They said that after being questioned, the priests were ordered to attend study sessions for four hours each day, but the only contact with the lay people has been a telephone call to their families.

The unofficial community has about 15 priests, but Tianshui diocese does not have any affiliation with the government-registered official Church in the area.

Local people from the unofficial community say that they are surprised at the arrests, as during recent years they have maintained peaceful relationships with government officials in the area.

The diocese of about 20,000 people split in the 1980s. It has not had a bishop since Bishop Wang retired in 2003 and Bishop Augustine Zhao Jinglong, from the official Church community, died in 2004.

Father Bosco Zhao Jianzhang, a grand-nephew of Bishop Zhao, is the administrator and bishop-elect of the official diocese, which has 12 priests.

Like the recent arrest of four priests from the unofficial community in Heze, Shandong, on August 3, local observers suspect the most recent arrests are related to preparing the ground for the ordination of a new bishop, which is listed as a priority undertaking in a report published by the Communist Party’s Gansu United Front Work Department last year.

AsiaNews reported that the department fears that a priest from the unofficial community may be elected as the preferred candidate for the next bishop and this would be seen as an unfriendly move. It says that the arrests are aimed at forcing the priests and lay people to accept Father Zhao, who is the nominee of the Patriotic Association as the next bishop.

Due to the detention of the priests and lay leaders, the annual retreat in the diocese, which was scheduled to begin on August 24, has been cancelled. Priests in parishes who were not detained have called on everyone to pray for the safe return of their leaders.

Meanwhile, in Inner Mongolia, AsiaNews reports that information received from the ChinaAid Association on August 23 says that 21 Protestant house Church pastors were arrested in Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, on July 26 at 10.00am and charged with using a cult organisation to undermine national law.


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