09/26/2006, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Mgr Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding, released after 10 months

The bishop has been home since yesterday afternoon and is being allowed to meet his priests. Local sources said his release was due to "prayers and denunciations through the media".

Rome (AsiaNews) – Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo, unofficial bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), was freed yesterday afternoon after being held for more than 10 months in police custody for "study sessions".

Sources of AsiaNews said he has returned to his residence and is enjoying full freedom, so much so, he has been able to receive visits from priests of his diocese. In the past, the bishop was submitted to complete isolation although he was at home.

The bishop was arrested on 8 November 2005 for the eighth time since 2004. According to local sources, throughout his latest detention, the bishop was again submitted to interrogations and pressure to adhere to the Patriotic Association (PA).

At the end of May, some news agencies reported that the bishop had been freed. In reality – as AsiaNews was informed back then by several local sources – the bishop was still a prisoner: he had merely been admitted for urgent treatment to a hospital in Hebei, and he was watched by six policemen day and night.

Mgr Jia, 70, has been bishop since 1980 and he has already spent 20 years in prison. He leads one of the most animated dioceses in Hebei, the region with the highest concentration of Catholics with around one and a half million believers. He is practically always under house arrest. Since he is not recognized by the government, he cannot exercise his ministry. For this reason, before significant religious feasts (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Assumption), he is seized and forced to submit to indoctrination, to prevent celebrations and gatherings among underground Christians.

At times, when important meetings of the Party take place, or when foreign heads of state or personalities visit, he is segregated in unknown places. In 1999, to prevent his evangelizing activities, police banned the bishop from maintaining an orphanage for abandoned and disabled children. But they were later forced to grant permission thanks to international pressure. The bishop keeps around 100 disabled children in his home, covering expenses himself.

In November 2005, some priests of the Church of Zhengding were arrested at the same time as Mgr Jia. A source of AsiaNews from Zhengding said the liberation of the bishop was due to "our prayers and denunciations in the media".

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