Fr Joseph Chen Hailong of Xuanhua. Photo: UCANEWS.COM

BEIJING – A young priest in China’s northern Hebei province was released to his hometown after more than three months in detention, Church sources said.

Fr Joseph Chen Hailong of Xuanhua, who has served in Yanqin parish near Beijing since his 2009 ordination, had been detained since he was seized by plainclothes police on April 9, reported the Asian Church news agency UCA News.

In recent years, government officials in the Zhangjiakou area have cracked down on priests who are not affiliated with the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Two young Catholics who were taken away with Fr Chen were released two days later.

Local Church sources said authorities held Fr Chen to question him about the whereabouts of Bishop Thomas Zhao Kexun of Xuanhua, who is in hiding from the government.

Chinese officials do not recognise Xuanhua diocese. Bishop Zhao, who is in his 80s, has headed the diocese since 2007 but has remained underground throughout much of his tenure.

Fr Chen was held in isolation for nearly two months, during which time he suffered malnutrition, sources told UCA News.

In addition to questions about the whereabouts of Bishop Zhao, authorities also repeatedly urged Fr Chen to accept the principle of a Church independent from Rome, to receive a “priest card” issued by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and concelebrate Mass with other priests who are part of the officially recognised church.

Fr Chen repeatedly refused the demands, the sources said, and he was later taken to meet a former underground bishop who has since joined the officially recognised Church.

The unidentified prelate tried to persuade the priest to accept the officials’ demands, the sources said.

Authorities finally released Fr Chen on July 23. - CNS

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