China makes preaching patriotism compulsory to reopen churches

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A file photo shows a priest hearing confession at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing. The Chinese government said that in addition to meeting health requirements after the COVID-19 outbreak, priests must “preach on patriotism” as a condition for reopening their churches. CNS photo/Damir Sagolj, Reuters

BEIJING (CNS) — Catholics are upset about a directive from China’s communist government asking priests to “preach on patriotism” as a condition for reopening liturgical services, suspended earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. reported the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Chinese Catholic educational administration committee of Zhejiang province jointly issued a notice May 29 on the resumption of liturgical activities.

“Religious places that meet the conditions of epidemic prevention will resume services from June 2,” it said while adding the patriotism requirement.

Father Liu of Hebei told it would be good to resume church activities, but the requirement on patriotism “is wrong. As members of the universal Catholic Church, we cannot accept and glorify what communists consider patriotic education.”

Jacob Chung, a Wenzhou parishioner, said the government’s move “has seriously interfered in the internal affairs of religion.”

A church observer in China who sought anonymity said the government was forcing religious leaders to add patriotism and Sinicization as part of religious teaching.

Amid the ongoing trade war with other countries and an economic slowdown at home, the Chinese Communist Party “is afraid of a counterrevolution. So they want people to hold on to patriotism,” he said.

He said the communists want to “suppress and transform” the church to sing the communist tune lest Christians criticize the regime.

Religious activities have been gradually resuming since June 2 in Sichuan province, Shaanxi province and Shanghai after the Joint Conference of National Religious Organizations held a video conference on May 30 about plans to reopen religious places.

The other terms in the notice issued by Zhejiang authorities, however, are associated with preventive measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The notice asked churches to avoid nonessential religious activities, reduce the number of participants and shorten religious activities.

In some provinces such as Sichuan, Christians were asked to seek authorities’ permission to resume religion classes.

Shanghai Diocese has issued a circular limiting the number of people attending services and outlining preventive measures against the pandemic.

Paul Fang from Wenzhou Diocese said parishioners have been looking forward to the resumption of Masses. He said his parish has already purchased temperature checkers, masks, disinfectant and other items.

As the number of people is limited, the parish priest has decided to increase the frequency of daily Masses, Fang said.

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