Rome (AsiaNews) – Prayers among the Chinese Catholics of Hebei are spreading for the death of Msgr. Giovanni Han Dingxian, underground bishop of Yongnian, who died September 9 last. But discontent and sorrow over the way in which his body was treated is also widespread. Few hours after his death (at 11 at night) in the early morning, his body was immediately cremated and buried in a public cemetery, thus denying the faithful and priests the possibility of being able to bless him and bid him a final farewell.
For some this is a sign that the police “feared his death and aimed to cover up proof”; for others it is only a sign of the police wish to avoid all visible forms of Underground Churches public ceremony.
A statement from the diocese of Yongnian has no note of controversy regarding the death of the bishop. It underlines that Msgr. Han had spent 35 years of his life in prison and asks all of the faithful to pray for him, described as “a model of faith and of pastoral guidance” for all of the Church.
One faithful from Hebei explains that he views the speed with which the police cremated and buried the body as a sign of their concern to avoid all visible Underground Church gatherings or ceremonies, which would have forced police intervention, (being illegal).
Other Catholics admit that “the bishop was ill with cancer” but they wonder: “why did they immediately cremate the body?” They recall many similar cases: above all the plight of Msgr. Giovanni Gao Kexian, underground bishop of Yantai (Shandong), who died on the evening of January 24th 2005 in a hospital in Bingzhou (Shandong). The bishop had been a police prisoner for over 5 years. The day after he was immediately cremated and buried in the presence of some police. As in the case of Msgr. Han no faithful or family members were allowed participate. Bishop Gao too died without any religious comfort, blessing or Psalm.
Years before, in April ’92, there was the case of Msgr. Giuseppe Fan Xueyan, Underground bishop of Baoding, who died in prison. His body was dumped on the doorstep of his home, wrapped in a plastic bag, with signs of torture on his neck (perhaps the mark of a wire string used to choke him) and bruises on his chest and face.
Another case remembered by the Catholics is that of Msgr. Liu Difen, Underground bishop of Anguo (Hebei), who also died in ’92, after a period spent in prison. The police had warned his relatives to visit him in hospital because he was “gravely ill”. Immediately after the visit the bishop died. His body was handed back to his family and as they prepared him for burial they noticed that he had ‘holes in his back, the depth of a finger: a sign that he had been tortured”.
China has often been criticised by the international community for the police use of torture. Manfred Nowak, chief UN investigator for torture confirmed in his 2006 report that the use of torture “is widespread in China”. He also demanded the immediate release of all those who are in prison for having exercised the right to practise their religious beliefs or freedom of expression”.
In China there are also laws which prohibit torture, but all too often they remain only words on paper.
In 2004 the Minister for Public Security published a regulation that puts responsibility for the death of detained persons at the door of the police force.
In Photo: Msgr. Han Dingxian at work in his office