The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, August 25, 2008

China arrests bishop of underground church

BEIJING: Security agents detained the elderly bishop of an underground Catholic church in northern China hours before the closing of the Olympic Games, a U.S.-based monitoring group said Monday.

Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, 73, of Zhengding, a city in northern Hebei Province, was taken by six government officials from his cathedral Sunday morning, the group, the Cardinal Kung Foundation, said.

The independent foundation, which aims to promote the Roman Catholic Church in China, said it did not know where or why Jia was being detained.

A woman who answered the phone at the city public security bureau said she had not heard about the case, as did a man at the office of Catholic and Christian affairs of Hebei's religious bureau. He gave only his surname, Zhang, as is common for Chinese officials.

"We will not easily arrest people if they don't break any law," Zhang said.

Jia has been repeatedly detained by security forces in China, which broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and demands that Catholics worship only in government-controlled churches. Such churches recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.

Millions remain loyal to the pope and worship in secret, but priests and members of their congregations are frequently detained and harassed.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a special letter to Catholics in China last year that praised the underground church but urged the faithful to reconcile with followers of the official church. On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, the pope sent greetings to the Chinese people and said he hoped the games would offer an example of coexistence among people from different countries.

On Aug. 10, during the opening weekend of the Olympics, a Chinese Christian activist was detained on his way to a church service attended by President George W. Bush in Beijing.

The games ended Sunday night.

The foundation said Jia has been detained a dozen times since January 2004. The most recent detention was in August last year.

"The persecution of religious believers is very much alive in China and ongoing regardless of the fact that the Olympics games has just been held in China," the foundation statement said.

Jia, who was ordained in 1980, had been kept under house arrest in the living quarters of his cathedral before being detained. He was allowed few visitors and only under supervision, the statement said. It did not say how long he had been held under house arrest.

Jia's Zhengding diocese, 240 kilometers, or 150 miles, southwest of Beijing in Hebei, is a traditional stronghold of Catholic sentiment in northern China.

China faces routine criticism for human rights violations and repression of religious freedom. Religious practice is heavily regulated by the Communist Party, with worship allowed only in party-controlled churches, temples and mosques, while those gathering outside risk harassment, arrest and terms in labor camps or prison.

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