01/03/2011, 00.00
CHINA – VATICAN
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Underground priest appeals for religious freedom, remembers late Bishop Gao Kexian

by Zhen Yuan
In commenting the Pope’s message for World Peace Day, Fr John from Shandong, urges everyone to commemorate the bishop of Yantai, who died in prison in 2004, ever faithful to the Church. Anyone who claims there is religious freedom in China should ask themselves how Mgr Gao and other prelates died in the Communist regime’s prisons.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Reflecting on the papal Message of World Day of Peace, an underground priest in Shandong has called for the commemoration of the late John Gao Kexian, the bishop of his diocese, who died in detention in 2005.

Father John, who is in his 40s, told AsiaNews that the message, with the theme “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace”, reminded him of the religious persecution of Bishop Gao, who was jailed because of his Catholic faith and loyalty to the Holy Father.

On 16 November 1999, Bishop Gao was arrested for the second time in Pingduming village, Yantai diocese.  His whereabouts were unknown thereafter. On Jan. 24, 2005, Bishop Gao’s family and local Catholics learnt that he had died that day, ill, at the age of 77.

The next day, only the family and several government officials hurriedly buried the prelate’s body. Father John describes the prelate as loyal to the Church and to the Pope, enthusiastic about evangelisation, who was “martyred for his faith”.

United Front officials and official Church clergymen tried to get Bishop Gao to join the Patriotic Association but he refused and insisted in his loyalty to the Holy Father.

Born into a fervent Catholic family in Zhoucun diocese in Shandong, He entered minor seminary in Zhoucun and major seminary in Jinan. In 1952, he was sentenced to reform-through-labour, and was released in 1982. Ordained a priest in 1985, he taught at the Zhengding seminary from 1985 to 1997. He was clandestinely ordained bishop of Yantai in 1997.

The Chinese government and some clergy in the official Church claim there is religious freedom in China, he said, but he wondered how Bishop Gao, Bishop Han Dingxiang of Yongnian (who died in 2007) and Bishop Fan Xueyan of Baoding (1992) died in detention, not to mention the whereabouts of Bishop Su Zhimin of Baoding and Bishop Shi Enxiang of Yixian.

Father John was impressed by Bishop Gao’s silence, life of prayer and his loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church.

Even though we did not talk about religious freedom openly in those days, I believe Bishop Gao was hoping to see religious freedom in the country, he said.

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