The Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops give the order to “suspend” the reopening of the churches; “Suspend” all pilgrimage activities; “Postpone” the reopening of schools in religious institutes and seminaries. To combat the pandemic, the Council of State has ruled that “religious gatherings” should be avoided. China lifted the national quarantine last March.

by Zhen Li

Updated: February 26, 2021 03:19 AM GMT

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Churches must remain closed; all religious activities and especially Marian pilgrimages are canceled; the opening of schools in religious institutes has been postponed: These are the requirements of the “Yi hui, yi tuan”, that is the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, the two bodies – not recognized by the Holy See – that manage the life of the Catholic communities in China.

In a communiqué published April 26, orders are given for a “double suspension and a postponement” which will apply throughout the month of May.

The first “suspension” is that churches will remain closed throughout China. The places of worship have been closed since January 23, the day the quarantine was triggered across the country due to the coronavirus. In late March isolation was lifted from the country – April 8 for the city of Wuhan – and the government pushed the population to resume normal life and go to work. But, according to the warning of the “Yi hui, yi tuan”, although “the epidemic situation in China is currently under control … the pandemic continues to spread abroad, and the danger of cases from abroad has found considerable growth”. Because of this, “the suspension of the opening of places for Catholic activities and for all religious activities must continue.”

The second “suspension” is for all activities related to Marian pilgrimages. The reality is that almost every diocese in China has a Marian shrine and these are highly popular during feast days relating to the Virgin and in particular in the month of May. This year, “no type of pilgrimage activity will be organized during the Marian month”.

Again due to the pandemic, “to ensure the safety and health of priests and the faithful, please avoid any relapses caused by the gatherings of people; dioceses and parishes are required to suspend group pilgrimage activities, or organize interregional pilgrimages. The bishops and priests must notify their faithful in advance, asking them to pray in their home, recite the rosary, do meditation to venerate the Virgin Mary, spending this month dedicated to her in peace”.

Two weeks ago, the diocese of Shanghai also decreed the cancellation of all pilgrimage activities to the national shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan.

The “reference” concerns schools within women’s religious institutes (male religious life is forbidden in China), linked to the maturation of vocations, and seminaries. The “Yi hui, yi tuan” orders that for the entire month of May “please renew the teaching methods, organizing online courses and strengthening the students’ individual study skills, so that lessons can continue regularly despite school closings “.

Together with these indications, the Patriotic Association and the Council of Bishops say they follow the declarations of the Council of State and that in order to  “continue the anti-coronavirus work”, it has been established that “religious gatherings should be avoided”.

According to some local Catholics, the decision is in reality due to a contempt for religion rather than to any real concern about the pandemic. “The factories, bars, shops, markets are reopening … but not the churches,” a young man from Wuhan told AsiaNews.

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