Vatican City, Jun 26, 2017 / 07:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday the Vatican issued a statement on the situation of the Chinese Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, who has not been returned since being forcibly removed from his diocese by the Chinese state May 18.
“The Holy See is observing with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago,” read the June 26 statement by the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke. The Catholic community of the diocese and his family and friends remain with no news of the bishop’s whereabouts or of the reason for his removal, the statement continued.
The Vatican-approved Bishop Shao, who is not recognized by the Chinese government, was summoned by their religious bureau on May 18 and has since not been heard from or returned, La Croix International reports.
Following canon law, the Vatican confirmed Bishop Shao as the successor of the Wenzhou diocese on Sept. 21, 2016, following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang. Since then he has been removed from the diocese or detained on four different occasions. He is not a part of the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and is therefore part of the underground church not recognized by the communist government.
The Vatican’s statement was issued in response to questions from journalists. There were reports last week claiming that the bishop had been spotted in the local airport with government officials, though the claim has not been substantiated and his present whereabouts are still unknown.
“In this respect, the Holy See, profoundly saddened for this and other similar episodes that unfortunately do not facilitate ways of understanding, expresses the hope that Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry,” the Vatican statement continued. “We are all invited to pray for Bishop Shao Zhumin and for the path of the Catholic Church in China.”
Bishop Shao was first detained, along with three other priests, following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Zhu, preventing him from presiding over the funeral Mass. He was also detained just one month prior to this current detainment, from April 12-17, which ostensibly was to prevent him from celebrating the Triduum and Easter liturgies, which would have been his first time as head of the diocese.
He is not the only Chinese bishop or Christian to be detained. Persecution of Christians in China varies by province, but certain provinces have seen an uptick in recent years. In Zhejiang province, where the Diocese of Wenzhou is located, more than 1,500 churches have been desecrated or demolished. Churches in Zhejiang have been ordered to stop displaying crosses and Christians there have been detained.
Overall, the situation of religious freedom in China has deteriorated even more in recent years, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2017 annual report, as the country’s leader Xi Jingping has “further consolidated power” and worked to promote the “sinicization” of religion.