In an effort to curb the influence of Christianity, China's Communist Party arrested the Vatican-appointed coadjutor bishop of Wenzhou, Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin because he was not approved by Chinese officials.
AsiaNews reported that at the time of his arrest, Shao was making preparations to honor the funeral of Msgr. Vincent Zhu Weifang, the original Bishop of Wenzhou who died earlier this week. Local Christians believe authorities arrested Shao to prevent him from participating in the funeral and taking possession of the diocese.
Shao was taken by police to northwest China "on a trip," sources said, and his secretary, Fr. Paul Jiang Sunian was escorted by police to Yunnan.
"The bishop and the priests were taken away from the city to thwart a peaceful succession of Msgr. Shao episcopate of Wenzhou," said unnamed sources.
The outlet also reported that local police banned members of the underground community from attending the funeral. The members of the official community must also obtain a permit to attend the funeral, and the police have determined that only 400 people will be allowed to participate in the Mass.
China's Communist Party only allowing Christians to worship or be appointed to seats of power based on its own rules, rather than what the Vatican decides.
National Review notes that in 2013, authorities attempted to pressure Shao to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, submitting to state control. They even took him on a mandatory fieldtrip to Sichuan Province, sitting him down with government-appointed bishop of Leshan, whom the Vatican considers illegitimate. But despite government pressure, he refused to yield and was eventually released.
Shao's arrest is only one of the latest in the government's attempts to clamp down on Christianity as the Communist Party grows increasingly suspicious of the influence of the religion, which is experiencing significant growth in the country. The Chinese government puts the number of Christians at 23 million, and the number of Catholics at more than 5 million.
The city of Wenzhou, known as "China's Jerusalem," because of its large Christian population, is one of several cities targeted in the country's "Three Rectification and One Demolition" beautification campaign, which has seen the demolition of at least 1,200 crosses and numerous places of worship in the past couple of years. A significant number of pastors and human rights lawyers have been arrested and imprisoned for opposing the campaign.
Persecution watchdog, Open Doors USA, has placed the country at 33rd on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution