07/04/2011, 00.00
CHINA – VATICAN

Catholics pray for the return of two priests, seized like their bishop-designate, in Handan

Jian Mei
The bishop-designate was seized by police right before his ordination, which had papal approval. The two priests disappear after they met Religious Affairs officials.
Handan (AsiaNews) – Two priests disappeared on Saturday in Handan (Hebei) after meeting officials from the Religious Affairs Office. Sources close to AsiaNews said that the two, who hold important offices in the diocese, wanted to know about the situation of their bishop-designate, who disappeared before his episcopal ordination.

The two priests are Fr Huai Jianting, chancellor, and Fr Liu Xiuhua, a member of the presbyteral council. After two days, nothing is known about them or about Fr Sun Jigen, coadjutor bishop-designate, sources in Handan told AsiaNews.

Mgr Yang Xiangtai, the 89-year-old ordinary bishop who had suffered a heart attack when he heard about his successor’s disappearance, is now doing better.

Fr Sun’s ordination was set for 29 June, feast day of Saints Peter and Paul; however, he was taken into custody by police on 26 June. His ordination was thus cancelled (see Jian Mei, “Hebei: ordination of Handan bishop cancelled, it had Holy See approval,” in AsiaNews. 27 June 2011).

On the day of his ordination, police surrounded the church were the ceremony was to take place as well as all streets leading to it (pictured).

On Saturday, Fr Huai was asked by local Religious Affairs officials to discuss matters relating to Fr Sun, sources told AsiaNews. The priest went to meet them. Eventually, he was seized and the diocese lost all contact with him.

Towards 6 pm on the same day, Religious Affairs officials also called Fr Liu and asked him to come and see them. Their meeting ended at 10 pm, and when he left the building, he was seized by a group of men who forced him into a van and drove away. The diocese’s car was left waiting for him outside.

Only later did Handan Catholics learn that Chongtai District police had seized him.

Catholics in the local and other dioceses have called on the faithful to pray for the safe return of the three men who disappeared.

Meanwhile, the Voice of America’s Chinese Service reported on 30 June that Liu Bainian, honorary president of China’s Patriotic Association and bishops’ college, said they did not receive any report concerning Fr Sun of Handan.

Since Fr Sun was elected candidate as coadjutor bishop of Handan, the bishops’ college was studying his case but has not officially approved him.

In addition, Fr Sun has not been detained, Liu said.
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