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Chinese bishop disappears, priest arrested in Hebei

Catholic World News (01/05/06)

Chinese authorities have arrested another Catholic priest of the “underground” Church in the Hebei province, and an underground bishop has disappeared, the Cardinal Kung Foundation has reported.

Father Wang Wenzhi was arrested on December 11, and has been held in custody since that time, the Cardinal Kung Foundation says. Local officials are evidently trying to persuade the priest to accept the authority of the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association. Father Wang is the senior priest in the Yongnian diocese; while in custody he has celebrated the 20th anniversary of his ordination.

Meanwhile Bishop Han Dingxiang, the head of the Yongnian diocese, has been taken by authorities to an undisclosed location. Since being arrested in 1999, the bishop had been held in a government facility in Yongnian. Although he was not allowed any contact with his relatives or with the faithful of the underground Church, occasionally he would be seen through the windows of the building where he was kept. But now Catholics of the Yongnian diocese report that their bishop has been moved from that facility, and they have no knowledge of his whereabouts.

Bishop Han Dingxiang, who is 66 years old, has spent more than 20 years under arrest. His health is believed to be poor. He is one of three bishops of the underground Church– all from dioceses in the Hebei province– who are now missing. Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding disappeared in 1996; Bishop Francis An Shuxin, an auxiliary of the same diocese, has not been seen since his arrest in 1997.

During the past year the Catholic Patriotic Association has conducted an aggressive campaign to gain control over the underground Church in Hebei . The province, which surrounds Beijing , is the most active center of activity for underground Catholics in China . Some analysts believe that leaders of the Patriotic Association in Hebei are motivated not only by hostility toward the underground Church but also by their determination to thwart efforts by national leaders in Beijing to open diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

In July, a group of Catholics sent a petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao, complaining that the persecution of the underground Church in Hebei was undermining the government’s bid to build “a harmonious society,” and showed “a mindset still stuck in the age of the Cultural Revolution.” The protest named Wang Zhenguo, a local director of religious affairs, as the main organizer of repressive efforts against the Church in Hebei .

During the course of the year 2005, authorities in Hebei arrested Bishop Jia Zhi Guo of the Zheng Ding diocese on three separate occasions. Police arrested Bishop Yao Ling of Xiwanzi in March, and took dozens of priests of the underground Church into custody in raids during the year. In most cases, the arrested clerics were released after a few days, after being pressured to cooperate with the Patriotic Association.