07/10/2020, 12.21
CHINA - VATICAN
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Msgr. Jia Zhiguo: The Church must be open to everyone, even those under the age of 18

by Wang Zhicheng

The blackmail of the Jinzhou authorities: you can reopen the churches - after the pandemic - if you ban entry to minors. Mgr. Jia Zhiguo, 83, has been a bishop since 1980 and is responsible for a community of over 150,000 faithful, with a hundred priests and as many nuns. The government wants to take over the orphanage for disabled children housed in the bishop's house. Benedict XVI sends a greeting.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - "The Church must be open to everyone, even to minors under the age of 18": This is the response of Msgr. Giulio Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei, about 300 km southwest of Beijing), to the Jinzhou authorities’ proposal to allow him to resume church activities after the coronavirus quarantine, under the condition he prohibit entry for young people under 18 years of age.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, churches throughout China have been closed since late January. In early June, the authorities gave permission to open them despite different security conditions.

The United Front, which manages religious activities, however, has been exploiting the reopening of churches to blackmail the diocese of Zhengding, which is recognized by the Holy See, but not by the government.

The condition of prohibiting minors under the age of 18 from attending church and any catechesis is spreading in China since the launch of the New Regulations on Religious Activities (February 1, 2018). Many official and underground bishops have pointed out that the ban is contrary to the Chinese constitution, which affirms the right to religious freedom without age limits. But the ban has become an instrument to stifle the faith, just as society is witnessing a strong religious revival.

The ban on minors under the age of 18 is explicitly mentioned in the documents for the governmental recognition of religious personnel (bishops and priests) and for the registration of religious sites. Many bishops, eager for official recognition, have signed this document, through which they become state officials, responsible for implementing this ban. Others signed hoping to get around the norm.

Msgr. Jia was clear, saying that "the Church is open to all", but in by doing so he risks that the underground churches of the diocese will remain closed.

Mgr. Jia Zhiguo, 83, has been a bishop since 1980 and is responsible for a community of over 150,000 faithful, with a hundred priests and as many nuns.

For many years, Msgr. Jia hosts a home for disabled children and young people, abandoned by their families or the result of past restrictions related to the one-child law. The bishop personally takes care of them together with some nuns. In the past, his work was even praised by the government, as well as by international personalities.

Now in an attempt to push the bishop to sign the recognition document, Jinzhou authorities have threatened to take over the children’s home, because neither he nor the nuns can serve disabled children without being registered. The government has already moved older children to another location, leaving the younger ones in the bishop's house. The authorities explained that they want to "buy" the orphanage, although they are not willing to pay any money.

Moreover, they even take possession of all the donations that annually arrive at the orphanage. If the nuns do not register, they will not be able to take care of the children and will be turned out onto the streets to return to their places of origin.

Msgr. Jia Zhiguo spent more than 15 years in prison. He has been an underground bishop since 1980 and since then has been continually arrested and kidnapped during which he is subjected to political sessions. He lives in his bishops’ house under continuous 24-hour surveillance.

In 2010, released after a period of imprisonment, Msgr. Jia received a message of greeting and esteem from Benedict XVI.

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