Tang Zhe | Bitter Winter

A Catholic Church in Ji’an, a prefecture-level city in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, was built this year at the cost of more than one million RMB (over $ 140,000), which had been raised by believers. It was named “The True and Original Source of the Universe” (萬有真原), a reference to the name inscribed in 1711 on a plaque the Kangxi Emperor (Xuanje, 1654–1722) donated to a Catholic church in Beijing. Not long after it opened its doors, the church became the target of the local government’s persecution.

In late September, local Chinese communist party officials ordered the congregation to paint over the sign with the name of the church, replace it with “Follow the Party, Obey the Party, and Be Grateful to the Party,” and display the national flag at the entrance.

What has hurt the congregations the most was the removal of a painting of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, later discarded into a dark corner of the church. Instead, a portrait of President Xi Jinping was hung in the center of one of the walls, surrounded by propaganda slogans on both sides.

A few days later, officials confiscated the keys to the church and locked all its doors and windows. The congregation lost their place of worship.

The same month, a Catholic meeting venue that is not part of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association in Jiangxi’s Poyang county was ordered to cease religious activities. Local officials threatened to revoke retirement pensions of elderly congregation members if another meeting were to be held. The church’s cross, a painting of the Virgin Mary, and religious couplets were removed, and portraits of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong were displayed instead.

In early May, another Catholic venue in Poyang county was shut down on the grounds that “any church refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is a xie jiao.” Congregation members said that they would rather worship at home than join the state-run church.

In September, in preparation for an inspection by Wang Yang, the president of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, local officials ordered the congregation of the state-run St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the Linchuan district of Jiangxi’s Fuzhou city to display slogans supporting the CCP and promoting traditional Chinese culture outside the church. The church now looks like a government propaganda agency.

After the inspection, the provincial CPCA and the National Administrative Commission of the Chinese Catholic Church convened a special meeting to discuss and study speeches by Wang Yang. The CPCA clergy proclaimed their support for the Party leadership, love for the country and religion, pledging “to contribute their share to realize China’s Dream – the great renewal of the nation.”

A local priest commented that the government-run church only seems like a place of worship, but in reality, it worships the CCP and promotes its ideology.

“Falling under communist control is a calamity to the church. Joining the CPCA is equivalent to handing oneself to the devil,” a retired priest from the northeastern province of Jilin remarked on the regime’s pressure to make all Catholic churches join the CPCA. He added that he chose to retire because he does not want to undergo CCP’s indoctrination and help it to indoctrinate believers.

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