Captured by Chinese Communists:Searching for the Rev. Fr. Gen-Jun 'Joseph' Lu
By Theresa Marie Moreau
First Published in The Remnant, October 2006
When the Rev. Gen-Jun “Joseph” Lu answered his ringing cell phone one day last February (in 2006), the voice on the other end – a fellow underground Roman Catholic priest: his comrade in the Church Militant – made a simple request. “I’ve just purchased my train ticket. I’ll be arriving in Baoding tomorrow, and I’d like to talk to you. If you’re able, would you, please, meet me at the railway station?”
“Yes, of course.”
Of course, he would meet the priest. It was Lu’s duty. After all, the 43-year-old is, or was at that time, the administrative leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baoding – an ancient city with a vast legion of underground Catholics faithful to the Pope, an ancient city just biding its time in the Communist-infested People’s Republic of China.
Lu ended the call and then recruited another underground priest, the 39-year-old Rev. Yan-Li Guo, to go along for the stop-and-go bus ride the next day, Friday, February 17. Destination: the Baoding Train Station, the city’s four-track whistle stop along the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway Line.
Baoding, settled on the flat tundra of the North China Plain, I’m told, is a buzzing metropolis, home to around 1 million residents. Not only does it have bragging rights to some of the most spectacular views of the Taihang Mountains to the west, but it also lays claim to fame for its ancient Lily Pond, an oasis of tranquility smack dab in the middle of the urban hubbub, but, unfortunately, it must also acknowledge kinship to the fetid waters of the polluted Daqing River, a narrow waterway that barely trickles (more like dribbles) in its near-dry journey.
The next day, before heading to the station, Lu and Guo grabbed their coats to insulate against February’s teeth-chattering temperatures, then rushed out the door and onto the streets of Baoding, where, in the winter, pedestrians often walk through swirls of ancient brown sands blown from the deserts of Mongolia during frequent and familiar dust storms.
It was just to be an ordinary trip to the train station on an ordinary winter’s day. But in Communist China, nothing is ordinary.
As is customary, to make ample room for cars, cyclists and the occasional donkey cart passing through, Lu and Guo hugged close to the buildings as they walked down the narrow residential byway. But before the men even made it to the bus stop, a car speeding down the lane screeched to a halt, nearly hitting them. The doors popped open, and several men, shouting and screaming, scrambled out and headed for the two.
Fueled with adrenalin, the priests ran.
But it was a short chase. In a matter of seconds, the men from the car – who turned out to be plainclothes police officers from the government’s Public Security Bureau – captured the two priests, who peacefully retreated to the waiting unmarked cop car, which drove off, parting the sea of bicycles rolling along the streets in front of them.
Sometime later, after their arrival at the police station, authorities separated Lu and Guo. Lu was taken into one direction, Guo another.
“That was the last time I saw Father Lu,” Guo reported to his faithful after his release a few days later. Authorities had tossed Guo, who had no previous arrest record, into a cold, cramped cell in Xushui County Detention Center.
The men were vigilant. They were cautious. Caution is a way of life for them. All this was explained to me by an anonymous source, a member of the underground Church in China, someone whose identity must remain secret for security reasons.
Underground priests must always follow caution. Unlike China’s aboveground “priests,” who get to strut around in religious garb because they register with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association – the secular religious organization controlled and manipulated by the Communist government – Lu and Guo must wear non-religious, modern, street clothing to blend in with the crowd. No Roman collar. No black. No crucifix.
Also, underground priests shouldn’t bed down in any one place for too long before moving onto the next. They rely on the kindness of the community of underground Church faithful for lodging, food, and often safety and protection. Cell phone numbers, too, must be changed with frequency.
And underground priests, when out in public, must always scan their surroundings for anyone suspiciously loitering around, anyone who looks unfamiliar, anyone who stares at their faces to get a good description for authorities.
Bordering on paranoia? Maybe. Ridiculous? Not really. Necessary? Yes. We’re talking Communist spies in a nation where it pays – money and merit – to gather information and pass it along to authorities.
As for Lu, where officials took him on February 17 and where he is currently, no one knows.
“I don’t know where Father Lu is at this time,” said Ming-Chuan “Joseph” Kung, president of the Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, which is an advocate for the persecuted underground Roman Catholic Church in China.
“We do not know why Father Lu and Father Guo were arrested,” Kung added. “There was never an official charge, but we can speculate that it was because they were working for the underground Church.”
Kung’s foundation was named in honor of his now-deceased uncle, Cardinal Pin-Mei “Ignatius” Kung, the bishop of Shanghai and apostolic administrator of Nanking and Foochow. In life, the cardinal stood as the symbol of the Roman Catholics in China and endured more than 32 years in prison for his faith and for his refusal to deny the authority of the Pope. He died on March 12, 2000 at the age of 98, in the United States, exiled from the land of his birth.
As for the visiting priest (whose identity must not be revealed, again for security reasons) who Lu and Guo were on their way to meet, he arrived at the railway station. He waited. No one met him. He continued to wait. No one walked up to him to greet him. He waited for almost two hours at the station for someone to pick him up. Finally, he gave up and left.
Something must be wrong, he thought. Being a member of the underground Church, he knew something serious had happened.
Such is the life of an underground priest.
Religious and personal freedom for the people of China began to disintegrate back in 1949 (after the end of the three-year Chinese Nationalist-Communist Civil War that followed in the wake of World War II), when the Communists defeated the Kuomintang – the Chinese Nationalist Party that fled to Taiwan.
Since then, being patriotic in China has meant being a revolutionary. Disdainful of anything that smacks of the democratic West, xenophobic Communists — the single-party power — condemn and declare those faithful to the Bishop of Rome as counter-revolutionaries, political enemies who form a subversive organization, an illegal society using the cloak of religion to cover their “treasonous” deeds.
As early as 1949, in an attempt to break with the Holy See, the People’s Republic of China established the Three-Self Reform Movement, so-called for its aim to be Self-governing, Self-supporting and Self-propagating. Relations between the Vatican and China first froze and then officially broke in 1951 after the Communists kicked out apostolic nuncio Archbishop Antonio Riberi. For the next couple years, they rounded up and expelled all foreign-born clergy and religious. Next, they began arresting and imprisoning Chinese priests and religious. Then the laity.
It wasn’t long before the Three-Self Reform Movement was replaced by and integrated into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, officially founded on July 15, 1957.
Notice the nomenclature: the Chinese—not Roman—Catholic Patriotic Association. Even though the association’s Communist-approved and Communist-regulated churches may look Catholic, even though the priests may wear Roman collars, even though a portrait of the Pope may hang on the walls and even though the Mass may have the same rites and rubrics, this pseudo-religious club is not Roman Catholic. This is a non-Catholic catholicism, a la Communist style – with allegiance to the regime, not the Vicar of Christ.
The raison d’être of this ideology-pushing association is pretty much spelled out in Article 2 of “Work Regulations for the Catholic Patriotic Association,” a document the Communists put together a few years ago.
“The purpose of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is: to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, to raise high the flag of love of country and love of the church…to unswervingly implement the principle of the independent administration of the church, to jointly manage church affairs in conjunction with church affairs organizations, to carry out a democratic running of the church, and to conscientiously promote the adaptation of the Catholic Church to socialist society.”
Not much in there about Rome.
Since 1957, priests and bishops who refuse to register with the Patriotic Association – because doing so, by the very act, denies the authority of the Pope – and those who offer Mass and the sacraments to the faithful are declared to be setting up illegal organizations and conducting illegal, counter-revolutionary activities.
These actions violate the nation’s Constitution, specifically Article 28, which decrees: “The state maintains public order and suppresses treasonable and other counter-revolutionary activities; it penalizes actions that endanger public security and disrupt the socialist economy and other criminal activities, and punishes and reforms criminals.”
Religion bashing really picked up warp speed during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when all religious activities were banned and labeled evil cults.
In its “Report Analyzing Seven Secret Chinese Government Documents,” issued February 11, 2002, the Center for Religious Freedom explained that the word “cult,” as used in most Chinese government documents, “refers to religious groups that are organized but do not register with the Religious Affairs Bureau of the state, nor would they join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. It is used in a political sense, not religious sense.”
Most Catholic churches in the PRC were destroyed during that Chinese Reign of Terror, which began its spin out of control in 1966 when the government’s Central Committee instituted a purge of enemies believed to be opposed to the ideological revolution. This involved the Red Guards (students and youths given carte rouge to wreak mayhem on those who opposed the “revolution”) conducting on-the-spot inspections, nighttime raids in homes, and public executions of so-called counter-revolutionaries, actions reportedly incited by Communist Party Chairman Tse-Tung Mao. Even the police feared the Red Guards, who obeyed no laws but their own.
For 10 years, until Mao’s death at the age of 82 on September 9, 1976, the purge continued at his urging. Political scientist Rudolph Joseph Rummel labeled Mao the bloodiest dictator of all time. Mao’s attributed death toll, not by his hand, but by his order, is 77 million.
This mind-numbing, almost incomprehensible number nearly dwarfs the 43 million Rummel attributed to General Secretary Joseph Stalin, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the 21 million attributed to Herr Führer Adolf Hitler of Germany.
In Western and Eastern Europe, the mass killings may have stopped. And in China, the purge may have slowed down greatly, but it continues, especially against those who want the freedom to practice their religion.
Even though the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, specifically Article 36, guarantees “freedom of religious belief,” this does not mean freedom of religion. Anyone and everyone who wants to practice their Roman Catholic faith must register with the Patriotic Association that oversees, regulates, and approves or denies all goings-on in the government-sanctioned churches, for “religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.”
For the Communists, “religious freedom” means only one thing when it refers to Roman Catholicism. It means freedom from the authority of the Pope, which means independence from the Pope, which means – it’s not Roman Catholic. But for some reason, the Holy See has never officially declared the church in China schismatic.
Freedom of religion in China? No such thing. Yet, despite the suppression, the persecution, the constant threat of arrest, detainment, interrogation, imprisonment, forced labor, beatings, torture, even death to those faithful to the Pope and to those who refuse to register with the Patriotic Association, the Roman Catholic Church has not only continued to survive, it flourishes. In 1949, the Catholic Church in China had around 3.5 million faithful. Now, the estimate is more than 10 million.
One of the most fruitful vines that grows and grows is planted in Hebei Province, which is believed to have the largest concentration (about one-fourth of the overall Catholic population) of underground Catholics in China, despite being so close to Beijing, the fire-breathing Red Dragon behind Communist China’s Bamboo Curtain.
To the northeast, about 90 miles from Baoding, sits Beijing, the capital of China, the political seat of power for the Communist Party. Ironically, a map with boundary demarcations shows that the red outline of Beijing eerily resembles the unmistakable head of a dragon, with its mouth and eyes pointed directly toward the city of Baoding.
Why does Beijing attempt to force its atheistic will upon Roman Catholics?
Speculation rests on the argument that the Communists want to have the underground Church clutched tightly in their five-starred fists before establishing diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
According to “Document 26” issued by the Secretariat of Party Central on August 17, 1999, “The normalization of China-Vatican relations offers a beneficial opportunity to solve the problem of the underground Catholic forces. If we can use this opportunity…to win the majority of the underground Catholic forces over to our side, to convert them, then a key link in Party Central’s strategic plan will be realized…The plan is: Positively struggle, treating each case differently, to convert the majority and to isolate the minority…making the leading authority in our country’s Catholic Church to be always in the hands of the patriotic forces. Distinguish the different circumstances of each underground bishop and priest, and deal with them accordingly.”
Long-term mission: Force the unofficial, illegal, underground Church into the official, legal, aboveground church.
Short-term mission: Behead the dioceses. Without shepherds, the sheep shall perish.
An immediate, close-range target: Lu.
Born on October 14, 1962, the son of a farmer, Lu was raised in a rural area in Dingxian, a county village about 45 miles south of Baoding. After he finished high school, he sought direction in life – and a little bit of pocket money – so he enlisted in the Communist army, the so-called People’s Liberation Army and joined the medical staff as a physician’s assistant.
But at night, Lu had a secret life.
In the dormitory, while his fellow soldiers slept in their beds around him, he lay in his own with a set of headphones clamped tightly over his ears. With one finger on the dial of his radio, he switched back and forth, listening to several talk radio stations. His favorites: the ones with Bible readings.
However, there was one problem with Lu’s nighttime pastime. It was highly illegal activity; PLA soldiers must be atheists. But the threat of danger did not wilt his blossoming desire for a spiritual life. After his short stint in the army, as soon as he was discharged, he practically ran to the underground seminary in his home district, to meet with its priests, with whom, my anonymous source tells me, he became fast friends,
In May 1989, Lu received the sacrament of holy orders. Forget the pomp, forget the circumstance. This is ordination, underground style. Nothing fancy. Not long after Lu’s ordination, he was called upon to lead the faithful in the Baoding Diocese.
For on October 8, 1997, Communist authorities with the Public Security Bureau hunted down and arrested the head of Lu’s diocese, Bishop Zhi-Ming “Jacobus” Su, who, in April 1996, had escaped a two-month-long period of house arrest and had avoided capture until then as he hid, with help from the faithful, in the Xinji County in Hebei Province.
Su has not been officially seen since, and if still alive – which is unknown at this time – he would be 73 years old this year. In 1994, by the time he was 60, he had been arrested no fewer than five times and had already spent almost 25 years in prisons and labor camps.
Such has been the life of underground Bishop Zhi-Ming “Jacobus” Su. Thus, someone had to step up to the altar and take the bishop’s place as alter Christus. That someone: Lu.
Not long ago, shortly before Lu’s abduction in February, three youngish underground priests from Lu’s district were summoned to Beijing to meet with government officials, who wined and dined the priests for a couple weeks (it was rumored), treating them to shopping sprees and lavishing them with trips – all expenses paid – to Shanghai.
But those were just rumors. However, when the three returned from Beijing, they began to offer Mass – publicly. In the underground circles, this is a definite no-no.
Underground priests who refuse to register with the Patriotic Association cannot offer Mass freely in public, unless they want to be arrested. Only those “priests” who register with the official church and receive a permit can do so. That was definitely a clear sign – not just a rumor – that the men had possibly switched teams, moving from the underground Church to the aboveground church.
Righteously peeved, Lu called the men to meet with him and severely castigated them. One by one. You did wrong, he scolded each. You were deceived.
For some, chastisement chafes the pride. Bettors have placed their money on the odds that one, two or even all three of the priests wanted to get even with Lu. And what better way than to leak word back to Beijing officials about their disciplinarian’s VIP status in the underground church.
But it wasn’t as if Beijing didn’t already know about him. And he, them. Lu’s “file,” is pretty thick. Listed below is a power-point history of his illegal religious activity RAP sheet, a chronological record of his arrests and prosecutions, compiled with information culled from Kung’s Web site, www.cardinalkungfoundation.org.
1990. Lu was arrested for the first time and detained for one month. A thin man and not too threatening at 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Lu was tortured. He was beaten. He was handcuffed for 24 hours a day, for many days. His head and face were hit so hard that his lower jaw was seriously injured and his teeth loosened, making chewing food impossible for many days.
May 23, 1994. He was arrested in the village of Shao Jia Zhuang, while administering the sacraments to an elderly priest, the Rev. Bo-Duo “Peter” Xie, who had suffered a stroke. Following the death of Xie a few years later, the government dispatched a registered official “priest” to move in and take control of that church, which the underground faithful had built in the village birthplace of Xie. Lu was released after a short period of detention.
August 29, 1994. Lu was arrested then released the following October 19.
April 5, 1998, Palm Sunday. During preparations for Mass, Lu was arrested and detained for a short time in Dingxian, his home village in Hebei Province. It’s a common practice in China for the government to arrest priests before any of the big holy days, like Christmas and Easter, when the Communists don’t want the Catholics gathering to attend Mass. Their intention: If there are no priests, there can be no Mass.
March 31, 2001. Arrested, in Baoding, a couple weeks before Easter. Lu was almost immediately sentenced to three years, as evidenced by a document, the “Re-education-Through-Labor Decision Statement” issued on April 13, 2001, by the Re-education-Through-Labor Management Committee of the People’s Government of Baoding, in Hebei Province. Kung obtained the rare-to-come-by letter of evidence. “Somehow it came out of China. How I smuggled it out, I cannot tell you,” Kung told me over the telephone. “It’s not how I got it; it’s the fact that I got it and the fact that the court document proves that when you are ordained as an underground priest and start evangelizing, you are subject to three years in a labor camp. It’s proof. We don’t know how many people have been locked up in the labor camps for the same reason.”
The document, which Kung translated from the original Chinese to English, reads: “On March 31, 2001, Lu committed a criminal offense for assembly by creating social disturbance and was detained by the criminal division of the Public Security of Dingzhou City. Lu was previously detained and investigated for assembly and creating social disturbance in June 1990 and July 1994. In April 1998, he served 15 days of administrative detention for assembly and creating social disturbance.
“After investigation, we have found that Lu had committed the following illegal activities:”
Count 1: “Lu went to Qingyuan County to receive theology training in 1986.”
Count 2: “In May 1989, he was ordained a priest.”
Count 3: “Lu’s position as a priest was not recognized by the Hebei Catholic (Patriotic Association) Administrative Committee.”
Count 4: “He has never recognized the Patriotic Association and refused to follow the directives of the Baoding (Patriotic Association) Diocese.”
Count 5: “Since 1998, Lu has many times conducted illegal evangelization activities in Wanghuiton Village Dingzhou City, seriously creating social disturbance.”
Count 6: “Lu, taking advantage of his position as an underground priest, has many times conducted illegal evangelization that created a comparatively big impact.”
His sentence: “Three years of re-education through labor,” in accordance with sections 10 and 13 of the Trial Methods for Implementation of Re-education Through Labor, which states that those people who should be committed to re-education through daily labor training and frequent study (brainwashing) sessions, from one to three years, include counter-revolutionaries, anti-communists or anti-socialists.
Lu was sent to Gaoyang County Labor Camp in Gaoyang, Hebei, which is about 22 miles from the city of Baoding. It is a farm-and-factory combo, where Lu worked as a cook. These re-education-through-labor camps are comparable to the legendary gulags of the former USSR and the concentration camps favored by World War II Nazis.
March 30, 2004. Lu released. But the arrests soon began again.
May 14, 2004. Lu and the Rev. Xiao-Li “Francis” Cheng were arrested in the city of Anguo, in Hebei Province, by government security policemen, while the men prepared to give talks at a Day of Study for local Catholic young married couples on Catholic moral theology and natural family planning from a medical perspective, according to several media reports. But before the doctors arrived and before the meeting even started, the authorities appeared, took the priests into custody and sent away the couples. The priests were arrested for disturbing public order, for the meeting had not been approved by the Religious Affairs Bureau. The two were locked up in the police detention center of Dingzhou, Hebei, and released a few days later on May 18.
Cheng was reportedly ordained an underground priest for the Anguo Diocese, which has not had a bishop since the 1992 death of 80-year-old Bishop Di-Feng Liu. Bishop Liu died – a counter-revolutionary – in Chengde Prison, in north Hebei Province. Before he died, it is believed that he was physically beaten. Catholics who visited him in a hospital as he lay on his deathbed, reported that he was unable to speak and his body revealed visible signs of torture.
Such was the life, and death, of underground Roman Catholic Bishop Di-Feng Liu.
Will such be the life – and death – of the still-missing underground Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Gen-Jun “Joseph” Lu?
ENDNOTE : All Chinese names have been written in a manner to avoid confusion and to remain consistent with the English standard of writing proper names: given name first, family name last. In Chinese, names are traditionally written with family name first, given name last.
Theresa Marie Moreau can be reached at TMMoreau@yahoo.com.