A young priest in northern Hebei province was released back to his home town on 23 July 23, nearly four months after being detained, Church sources said today. Father Joseph Chen Hailong of Xuanhua, who has served in the Yanqin parish on the outskirts of Beijing since his ordination in 2009, was seized by plainclothes police on 9 April.
In recent years, government officials in the Zhangjiakou area have cracked down on priests who are not affiliated with the government-sanctioned “open” Church structure. Two young Catholics who were taken away at the same time as Father Chen were released two days later.
Authorities held Fr Chen at a guesthouse to question him about the whereabouts of Bishop Thomas Zhao Kexun of Xuanhua, according to local Church sources. Bishop Zhao, an 'underground' prelate in his 80s who has headed the diocese since 2007, has been in hiding from the government.
Father Chen was held in isolation for nearly two months, during which time he suffered malnutrition, the sources said. They added that the priest’s spirit nearly collapsed under the hardships of his detention. To dispel the loneliness and hunger, Father Chen drew the Holy Communion on the wall of his room in the guesthouse and adored the Blessed Sacrament.
In addition to questions about the whereabouts of Bishop Zhao, authorities also repeatedly urged Father Chen to accept the principle of an independent Church, to receive a 'priest card' issued by the open Church and concelebrate Mass with other open priests.
Father Chen refused all the demands, the sources said, adding that he was later taken to meet a former underground bishop. This prelate, who received government recognition in recent years, tried in vain to persuade the priest to accept the officials’ demands, sources said.
Authorities finally released Father Chen on 23 July. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of three other priests from Xuanhua: Fathers Cui Tai, Yan Zongzhi and Zhang Jianlin, all of whom were taken away by authorities on 22 June, remain unknown.
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