Chinese authorities reportedly took away at least two Catholics priests and more than a dozen nuns and seminarians in the Diocese of Baoding in central China on Nov. 2.
A report from news site AsiaNews said two seminarians were released after a few hours. It is not known of if any others have been released as of posting time.
The incident happened on the same day that Father Lu Genjun, former vicar general of the diocese, went missing.
The priest was believed to have been taken by state security forces in Hebei province. No one knows of the whereabouts of the priest as of posting time.
It was not the first time that Father Lu was taken away by authorities. In February 2006, he was arrested with other priests. He was released eight years later in 2014.
Prior to his 2006 arrest, the priest was repeatedly jailed by authorities, first on the Palm Sunday of 1990, a few months after his ordination to the priesthood.
He was again arrested in 2000 and was detained in the Gao Yang Provincial labor camp for three years. After that, he was once again arrested in 2004.
Father Lu has received several offers to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The priest’s refusal to join the state-sanctioned group is said to be the reason for his repeated arrest.
Father Lu has been episcopal vicar of the Diocese of Baoding, replacing two bishops who were earlier also arrested by Chinese authorities — Bishop James Su Zhimin in 1996 and Bishop Francis An Shuxin in 1997.
Bishop Francis An eventually agreed to join the Patriotic Association, a move that is said to have heavily influenced the decision to release Father Lu in 2014.
Bishop Su Zhimin remains in police custody for over 20 years already.
Under the Sino-Vatican deal, China will formally recognize the pope’s authority within the Church, while the Vatican in turn, will recognize the legitimacy of bishops who were previously appointed by Beijing.
The Diocese of Baoding is one of the largest dioceses in China and has at least half a million Catholic faithful.
The research and advocacy group Freedom House estimated in 2017 that there are more than 350 million religious believers in China.
There are estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China; roughly half are part of the so-called underground Church while the other half worship in state-sanctioned congregations.