A recent and often ignored rule prohibiting minors from entering churches is now being strictly enforced in many dioceses in China’s northern Hebei province, church people and parishioners say.
Village and town leaders are physically preventing them from entering churches for early morning Mass. Meanwhile, local printers are refusing to print religious leaflets in what some priests say is yet another attempt to weaken the church.
When a church in Renqiu city of Xianxian Diocese was raided by local government officials on Nov. 9. they found children entering a church, said one parishioner.
“[They] immediately ordered the church to ban minors from entering and sent people to guard the church to keep children out,” the parishioner said.
A church in Hexizhai in Zhaoxian Diocese, several churches in Shijiazhuang Diocese and Qujiazhuang of Zhangjiakou Diocese were among other Hebei parishes where minors are prohibited from entering.
Qujiazhuang has the second largest Catholic population in Hebei province.
A source who asked not to be named said a priest called Father Wang Zhengui, officially announced the ban after a morning Mass in Qujiazhuang Immaculate Conception Church recently, saying that “from now on, only adults can be acolytes, children are not allowed.”
The source said that although a ban on children entering churches had been announced earlier, it had not been seriously enforced.
This time the priest promised to strictly implement it by signing a letter of assurance with the authorities.
Families were also reportedly made to sign letters pledging not to break the rule.
As of November, this year, starting with the open church community in Hebei, the measures were being rigorously enforced while relevant government departments were carrying out strict inspections.
Father Paul of Xianxian Diocese condemned the move.
“There is no legal requirement to prohibit minors from entering churches. It’s clearly the intention of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to brainwash children into accepting atheism from an early age,” he said.
“If the CCP requires children to reject religion, inculcates atheism into children and forces children to accept atheism, it’s against their own rules,” the priest added.
One parish chairman, who serves more than a thousand parishioners, called the ban on children an “evil” practice.
“Children are the future of the Church. If the CCP doesn’t allow them to enter churches, they will lose themselves and their souls in this materialistic society. The CCP is doing evil and destroying people,” he said.
A Hebei priest, who conducts Sunday School lessons, said the Church has to speak up now.
“If the CCP can brainwash children, not only will the root of the Church be destroyed, but also the souls of children will be lost and this society will become infinitely rotten,” he told UCA News.
Father John, also from Hebei, said some schools are cooperating with the government.
“Some deliberately have switched classes from Fridays to Sundays to prevent them attending Sunday school or services.”
Meanwhile, authorities banned religious media from publishing information with photos and content for children in early November, threatening to close them down if they do, according to sources.
Peter, a Catholic who has worked in church media for many years, said authorities are looking to kill of the Church by making sure it has nothing to pass on to the younger generation.
Father John also said that he recently wanted a leaflet he had written for evangelism to be printed but was told by a printer that religious leaflets were no longer allowed.
“Advertising the sale of aphrodisiacs and gambling services can be printed, but only religious items are not allowed. What kind of country is this?” he said.
According to Peter the crackdown on the Church in Henan last year was only testing the water for the current suppression of the Church in Hebei. “With Hebei having the largest Catholic population in the mainland, if the authorities succeed [in cracking down], it can be said that they will have subdued the Church in China,” he said.