Amid a renewed and severe government crackdown on Christians throughout China, on 22 September, an accord was signed between China and the Vatican regarding the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in the country.
Pope Francis will now recognise seven bishops appointed by Beijing, who had been excommunicated by previous popes as they were not Vatican appointees.
This is the first agreement between Beijing and the Holy See since 1951 when they severed diplomatic ties over the issue of bishop appointments, but it leaves other areas of tensions unresolved.
China has more than 10 million Catholics. Beijing recognises the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) but not the underground Catholic church. All Beijing-recognised bishops are CPA members.
Though full details of the accord have not been released, it is understood that both sides now have a say in the selection process of bishopric candidates, with the pope having the final word and a veto on the appointment of bishops throughout China.
The Vatican stated that the aim of the accord “is not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but, at the same time, recognised by Chinese authorities.”
It is unclear how exactly the accord will affect non-CPA churches and leaders who oppose government rule in their churches.
Many underground bishops, priests and lay leaders continue to suffer grave persecution and harassment at the hands of state authorities.
In February this year, Beijing implemented a set of authoritarian regulations on religious affairs across the country, imposing tighter controls on venues, ministers, online materials, and monetary offerings.
In March, Bishop Guo Xijin, the head of the underground diocese of Mindong, Fujian province, was held by government agents for a day for “talks”.
Bishop Guo had been asked by the Vatican to make way for a church leader approved by the Chinese government.
According to Father Bernardo Cervellera, chief editor of AsiaNews, an official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, a number of other priests have also been imprisoned.
He did not know the present situation of priests who had been imprisoned in Hebei province.
The restrictions on unregistered premises (be they factories, shops or homes) used for worship have led to hundreds of house churches being shut down.
The largest house church in Beijing, Zion Church, was closed in August after refusing to install CCTV cameras for monitoring by the authorities.
The Beijing Chaoyang district civil affairs bureau stated that the church was “legally banned” and its “illegal promotional material” confiscated.
HOME GROUP PRAYER
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour…” 1 Timothy 2:1–3 NKJV.
We come together before you, united in prayer and with one voice in the mighty name of Jesus, to seek your justice for all your children in China, especially those who are suffering under the authoritarian rule of the Beijing government and the new laws implemented in February.
We pray, Father, that you will intercede in China and remove the yoke of bondage and suffering which the rulers of the land have imposed on their fellow people. Allow them to be free, LORD, to worship you freely and collectively.
We pray, Father, for all leaders throughout China, from those in Beijing to the countless local ones across the land. We pray that the veils will be lifted from their minds, such that they may think clearly about you; that the scales be removed from their eyes, such that they may see you and the works of your hands; and that the wax may be removed from their ears, such that they may hear you and recognise your voice, so as to come to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Saviour.
We pray, Father, that you continue to strengthen the faith of all our Christians brothers and sisters in China, so they may stand firm in the face of this ongoing and increasing persecution, as they continue to grow and expand your kingdom throughout that land.
In Jesus’ mighty name, we pray. Amen!
Materials used by kind permission of the original author.