Mgr Anthony Li Duan is one of the most prominent figures of the Chinese Catholic Church. Born on June 13, 1927, he has served as the Archbishop of Xian (Shaanxi) since 1987 and is known for his loyalty to the Holy See. Archbishop Li has steadfastly defended the freedom of the Church against the claims and attempts at control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). Yet, he is loved and held in high regard by both the official and the underground Church.
For this reason, he has often been subjected to controls and interrogations. In the past, he has been detained on several occasions for long periods of time: 1954-57, 1958-60, and 1966-79.
In his many years as a clergyman he has distinguished himself for his active pastoral work and his determined defence of the rights and freedoms of the Church.
As a pastor he has been prudent but courageous and open to working with government authorities without compromising his views on fundamental matters of faith and the rights of the Church.
He refused for example to take part in Beijing's illegitimate consecration of five bishops on January 6, 2000. He also refused to go along with the political campaign against the canonisation of 120 Chinese martyrs.
The Archbishop is vice chairman of the Council of the Chinese Catholic Church. Many have speculated that he might be the cardinal in pectore whose identity John Paul II never revealed.
Publicly though, he has said that he has "never received any official confirmation" to that effect.
Active and determined, Archbishop Li opened the first Catholic Social Service Centre in 2002.
Back in 1997 he inaugurated a training division for women religious at the Xian Regional Seminary.
In an interviewed published last year in Mondo Missione (PIME'S monthly magazine) and then by AsiaNews, the Archbishop of Xian acknowledged that "the election and consecration of bishops" remains the main obstacle to diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican. "Indeed there are difficulties, yet it must be also said that great steps have been taken in the right direction." For instance, in his own diocese, Mgr Anthony Dang Mingyan, 38, was consecrated new auxiliary bishop last July 26 with approval of both Vatican and Beijing.
In 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing therapy in hospital.
The diocese of Xian has about 20,000 faithful and, during the Cultural Revolution, St Francis Cathedral was turned into a candy factory.