As Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to tighten the Communist Party’s grip on religious practice, more and more Christians are opting out of the official, state-recognized church and heading underground.
Some six million Catholics have refused to join churches recognized by the Communist Party and have opted to worship in “house churches,” where they can remain loyal to the Vatican.
Father Dong Baolu, an underground Chinese priest, celebrates Mass in these so-called house churches in order to worship God in freedom and independence from state control.
For Dong, a church controlled by the Communist Party is no church at all. According to Dong, the Party “says we have religious freedom, but they only allow us to be free within a circle they drew.”
“They want to lead us. But those who don’t believe in God cannot lead us,” he said.
The Catholic Church in China has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the Patriotic Catholic Association and having direct ties to the Communist party. A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, since the association “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”
Father Dong fears that a thaw in relations between Beijing and the Vatican could compromise that freedom.