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New arrest for Msgr. Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding

ICC Note: For the ninth time since 2004, an underground bishop of Zhengding has been arrested, perhaps due to the upcoming publication of the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics.

6/7/07 China (AsiaNews) – The underground bishop of Zhengding ( Hebei ), Msgr. Giulio Jia Zhiguo, was arrested by police June 5th last. This is the ninth time that the prelate has been arrested since 2004. The episode was reported by the American Kung Foundation, as association which fights for religious freedom in China .

Police took him from his home at 9.30 am (local time). According to local sources, the officers spoke of “nine days of arrest”: the place where he is being detained is unknown.

The motive for the arrest is unclear, but an expert told AsiaNews that it could be a “provocation” ahead of the imminent publication of the Pope’s letter to China’s Catholic’s. It remains a fact that Heibei province is one of the worst hit by the regime’s anti-Catholic persecution.

The 73 year old prelate was last arrested in November 2005: in the past, Msgr. Jia spent over 20 years in prison. Since his release he has always found himself under strict police surveillance, limiting his pastoral work. He can no longer visit the faithful of his diocese; he cannot even give last rights to dying Catholics.

As he is not recognised by the government he cannot exercise his ministry. This is why on the eve of important feasts (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and the Assumption) he is always abducted and forced to submit to indoctrination to prevent underground Christian’s celebrations.

This severe control perhaps explains why his is one of the most vibrant diocese in Heibei, the area with the highest concentration of Catholics, with over one and a half million faithful.

Particular attention was given to him around the time of John Paul II’s death, April 2nd, given that the authorities expected internal friction among the bishops, along the lines of what happens when a party chief dies.

No one is allowed to visit him and his public appearances are always followed by local police. Bishop Jia, among other things, houses over a hundred handicapped and orphaned children in his home.