» 02/12/2009, 00.00
Underground bishop of Xiwanzi released after two and a half years in prison
He had been arrested for consacrating a church without the consent of the Patriotic Association. The authorities view him only as a priest, and do not allow him to preside at large-scale activities. Two priests and 20 faithful of the diocese of Xiwanzi are still in prison. In Hebei, two bishops are still "disappeared" after many years.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/UCAN) - Leo Yao Liang, the underground bishop of Xiwanzi, was set free shortly before the Chinese new year. He had been taken away by the police on July 30, 2006. Government officials have nonetheless warned him that he may not perform his office as bishop, or preside at large-scale Church activities.
Bishop Yao, 85, is an unauthorized bishop, not recognized by the government and not a member of the Patriotic Association (PA). In all likelihood, he was arrested because the authorities discovered he consacrated a church in Guiyang county in mid-July 2006 without the consent of the Patriotic Association.The bishop and five of the 20 priests who concelebrated the Mass were detained for violating religious affairs regulations.
While he was in prison, Bishop Yao was kept in various locations, always isolated from everyone else. Now the authorities are permitting him to see people, but he is not allowed to organize large assemblies. In Xiwanzi, the faithful were not even permitted to organize a celebration for his return.
The diocese of Xiwanzi (Hebei) is a diocese of the underground Church, with 15,000 faithful, about 260 kilometers north of Beijing, almost on the border with Inner Mongolia. For months the police, egged on by the PA, have been carrying out a campaign against priests and bishops of the unauthorized Church. According to local sources, there are still 20 faithful and two priests in prison, arrested for organizing demonstrations and sit-ins to free their bishop.
There are still two bishops from the area of Hebei - the region with the highest concentration of Catholics - being held by the police (in an unknown location):
Bishop James Su Zhimin (diocese of Baoding), 75. He was arrested in 1996 and disappeared. In November of 2003, he was seen at a hospital in Baoding, under police supervision, where he was treated for his heart and his eyes. But a few days later, he disappeared again.
Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian), 86. Arrested on April 13, 2001. Bishop Shi, ordained bishop a 1982, he had been in prison for 30 years before that. He was arrested again in December of 1990, then released in 1993. He lived enforced isolation until his last arrest.
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