09/11/2007, 00.00
CHINA

Yongnian’s underground bishop dies after two years in solitary confinement

Mgr John Han Dingxian has died of cancer. Quickly the police cremated his body and buried the ashes only a few hours after his death. In his diocese underground and official Catholics have established a good level of co-operation.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Mgr John Han Dingxian, the underground bishop of Yongnian, has died in detention. AsiaNews has learnt that the prelate was suffering from lung cancer. Many faithful were shocked to find out that his body was reportedly cremated within a few hours of his death and his ashes interred in a public cemetery without proper religious comforts.

Taken to an unknown location two years ago, the bishop was recently hospitalised in Shijiazhuang, this according to a priest from Yongnian (Hebei). When he entered a coma, the authorities summoned his close relatives. He was 68 when he died.

Officials from the official diocese of Handan (which includes the territory covered by the underground Yongnian diocese) said that they would celebrate masses in memory of Bishop Han. Locally the official and underground Church had established a good level of co-operation.

Monsignor Han, who has always been a member of the underground Catholic community, was arrested in 1960 for "counter-revolutionary activities" and sent to a reform-through-labour farm in north-eastern China. After he was released in 1979 when Deng Xiaping came to power, he returned to his diocese, where he taught at a local high school.

He was finally ordained a priest in 1986 and became bishop three years later, taking the post as an underground prelate in Yongnian.

In 1999 he was arrested by the police for conducting a religious retreat for nuns.

After about four years of detention, he was moved to a flat on top of a police station, where he stayed for another two years.

Sources told AsiaNews that the bishop was well-respected by the staff at the station. He was actually allowed to celebrate mass. However, he could not have contacts with the outside world.

Some faithful do remember though that from time to time they could see him from afar at his window looking out from his fourth floor flat.

That was before he was secretly moved two years ago to an unknown location. Since 2005 nothing was known about him until his death.

AsiaNews had begun a campaign for his release, receiving the support of the European parliament and the US Bishops’ Conference.

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