China's first Catholic non-profit approved but arrests continue

In a significant advance for the Church in China, the ministry of civil affairs has recognised the first Catholic non-profit organisation in Hebei but media reports from the same province indicate that 90 Catholics associated with the unrecognised Church have been arrested.

UCA News reports that "Jinde Charities," based in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, about 270 km southwest of Beijing, was previously known as "Beifang Jinde Catholic Social Service Center."

Director Fr John Baptist Zhang Shijiang of Xingtai diocese in Hebei, told a July seminar that the new legal identity provided by the registration gives tax-exempt status to the organisation and allows it to operate its own bank accounts.

According to the website of the ministry of civil affairs, civil groups may register under various categories: social organisations, foundations or non-enterprise units. Upon registration, they are commonly recognised as Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs).

The organisation which is named for the late Bishop Hou Jinde of Xingtai diocese, was established in 1997 to provide disaster relief services, implement social development projects in education, health care, poverty eradication and services for the handicapped, and support Church-run projects.

Following earlier local government approval in August 1998, the organisation has funded the education of more than 6,000 schoolchildren, built 20 primary schools and aided victims of at least 35 disasters in the country.

In recent years, Beifang Jinde also reached beyond China and made its first overseas donation to people who lost their homes in the deadly undersea earthquake and tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean region on 26 December 2004.

When the program opened on 11 July, Feng Peipei, a postgraduate student, spoke on behalf of all the beneficiaries. "Even with thousands of songs, we can never completely express our gratitude" to all the benefactors, she said.

Meanwhile, AsiaNews quotes a Kung Foundation report that police from the same province arrested the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Xiwanzi, Mgr Yao Liang, on 30 July and went on to arrest a priest from the same diocese and 90 members of their community who called for their release.

Hebei authorities did not explain why they took the bishop into custody. Local Catholics protested against the injustice and a pregnant woman miscarried and two men were seriously injured in clashes with the police, AsiaNews said.

On 2 August, the "unofficial" Catholic community of Xiwanzi mobilised and presented a petition calling for the immediate release of the bishop and priest. Police responded at 2am of the same day by deploying 500 officers and arresting around 90 people.

In ensuing clashes, a pregnant woman miscarried and another two Catholics were seriously injured and hospitalised. Seventy of those arrested have been released and 20 remain imprisoned.

Hebei is the region with highest density of Catholics (more than 1.5 million) in China and where unofficial Catholics, that is, those who are not recognised by the government, are in the strong majority.

First Catholic-run Non-Profit Organization Registered With Government (UCA News, 3/8/06)
Four Diocesan Priests from China On Study Tour to Sydney (China Catholic, 31/7/06)
Hebei: bishop, priest and 90 unofficial Catholics arrested (AsiaNews, 3/8/06)

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4 Aug 2006