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ICC note: Underground bishop released but fear of tension and unrest because of Pope’s letter rises.

6/23/07 Beijing (AsiaNews) – Msgr. Giulio Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding was released yesterday. Police had sequestered him June 5th last. AsiaNews sources confirm that yesterday afternoon at 17.30 (local time) the bishop returned home to the Episcopal residence of Zhengding (Hebei), after 17 days detention.

AsiaNews sources say on this occasion the bishop was not subjected to interrogation or coercion. He was only kept in isolation and surveyed in an army barracks near Zanhuang (Hebei). On previous occasions he had been interrogated and subjected to coercion in the attempt to make him adhere to the Patriotic Association, the organism which controls all Churches and which is seeking to build a Church independent of the Vatican. The bishop has been sequestered a total of nine times since 2004.

The motive for this latest arrest remains unclear, but experts explain to AsiaNews that it may be a “provocation” in view of the imminent publication of the Pope’s letter to China’s Catholics. According to many faithful, the police and government in Hebei fear that the Pope’s letter may result in tension and unrest. Even at the time of John Paul II’s death the police cracked down on the Church and closely followed the bishops to make guard against “revolt” and unadvisable gestures.

Hebei is one of the provinces worst hit by the Chinese governments anti Catholic persecution, and the area with the greatest concentration of underground Catholics. The last arrest of Msgr. Jia dates to November 2005. In the past Msgr. Jia spent over 20 years in prison. As a free citizen he is under constant police surveillance, limiting his pastoral activities. He cannot visit the faithful of his diocese, not even to administer extreme unction to dying Catholics.