Appeal: Bishops and priests disappeared or in prison, home for the Chinese New Year
by Bernardo Cervellera
During the Year of the Dragon, AsiaNews asks President Hu Jintao and ambassador Ding Wei for the release of three bishops and six Chinese priests who have disappeared in police custody or are in forced labour camps.
Rome (AsiaNews) - In a letter to President Hu Jintao and the Chinese ambassador in Italy, AsiaNews has decided to ask for the release of three bishops and of six priests who have disappeared in police custody or are detained in prison without trial. Their release could be a gesture of friendship and hope for Catholics and human rights activists, as well as a sign of true hope for the upcoming Chinese New Year.

In just a few days, on January 23, the world of the Far East celebrates the Lunar New Year: we will enter the Year of the Dragon, a very positive year that promises many fruits. In China, hundreds of millions of people will travel to join their families: the dawn of the New Year is always celebrated by strengthening the bonds of family and friendships which help to face the future with an even more positive outlook.

For this reason, we ask that for these three bishops and six priests to be restored to their families and their communities.

They were never charged with any crime; given the opportunity of a trial or convicted by a court. And yet they have been interred in forced labour camps or were seized by the police of a country that is a member of the UN Security Council and that has signed the Charter of Human Rights.

AsiaNews has decided to send a letter to the Chinese ambassador in Italy, the Hon. Ding Wei, who in recent days has admirably and diligently taken great care in serving the Chinese community in Italy, particularly after the tragic event of the barbaric killing of Zhou Zheng and small infant Joy.

Having wept and prayed with him for the family of Zhou, we ask the Hon. Ding for a little of this diligence and care towards the bishops and priests who have disappeared and been imprisoned unjustly, who are also his countrymen and our brothers.

Here is a list of bishops and priests in prison, or disappeared:

Bishops and priests who have disappeared in police custody

Msgr. James Su Zhimin underground bishop of Baoding (Hebei)
Msgr. Su, nearly 80 years of age, was arrested by police on October 8, 1997. The charge that led to his arrest has never been revealed, nor whether a trial took place, while place of his detention is unknown. In November 2003 he was discovered by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by policemen. After a brief and hurried visit from relatives, he once again disappeared in police custody and to this day there has been no more information on his whereabouts.
Before his last arrest, Msgr. Su Zhimin spent at least 26 years on and off in prison or forced labour camps, branded as "counter-revolutionary" just because, since the 1950s, he always refused to join the Patriotic Association, which wants to build a national Church independent of the pope. In 1996 - from a hidden location because he was sought by the authorities – he was able to distribute an open letter calling on the Chinese government to respect human rights and religious freedom of the people. In all, has already spent 40 years in captivity.

Msgr Cosma Shi Enxiang, underground bishop of Yixian (Hebei)
Bishop Shi, 90, was arrested April 13 the 2001, which was Good Friday. Nothing is known of him, although his family and the faithful continue to ask the police for at least some news of his wellbeing.
Msgr. Shi Enxiang has suffered long periods of prison from 1957 until 1980, was forced into hard labour, first on a farm in Heilongjiang, then as a miner in coal mines in Shanxi. He was arrested again for three years in 1983, followed by three years of house arrest. In 1989 – following the establishment of the Episcopal Conference of underground bishops – he was arrested once again and was only released in 1993, until his last arrest in 2001. In all, he has already spent 51 years in prison.

Fr. Joseph Lu Genjun, vicar general of the underground diocese of Baoding (Hebei)
He disappeared in police custody February 17, 2006. Fr. Lu, who belongs to the underground Church, was arrested in February 2006 along with another priest and a friend whom he met at the train station in Baoding. The other priest was transferred to the Xushui prison (Hebei) and later released. Instead, to date no-one knows where Fr. Lu is imprisoned.
In December 2008, his parishioners asked the government for his release, even if only temporary, to be close to his dying parents and attend their funeral. But even this act of filial piety, which is of great importance in Chinese culture, was denied him.
Fr. Lu has suffered years of imprisonment and other violence. In 1998, Palm Sunday, he was jailed for a short period (perhaps to keep him from celebrating Masses during Holy Week). In 2001 he was sentenced to three years of "re-education through labour" (forced labour camps), accused of having conducted illegal missionary activities that undermine social order because he did not adhere to the Patriotic Association. He was released in 2003.
In May 2004 he was arrested along with another priest, shortly before giving a lecture on natural methods of birth control and moral theology. The two were kept for several days in Dingzhou prison, near Anguita (Hebei).

Fr. Zhang Jianlin, underground priest of the diocese of Xuanhua (Hebei)
Fr. Zhang was taken away by staff of the Religious Affairs Bureau on 22 June 2011. Up to now no-one knows where he is being held.
In July 2009, Fr. Zhang had been taken away by police and placed under house arrest in a courtyard attached to the building of a government office. He had been given permission to receive visitors, but was been subjected to heavy physical and psychological tactics to force him to support the Council of Chinese Bishops (not recognized by the Holy See) and to join the Patriotic Association. After seven months of detention he was released, but was kept under constant control, he could not move freely, and was forbidden to practice his ministry
In 2008 he was arrested in Nanjing, for trying to go to the Marian shrine of Sheshan on May 24 and participate in the celebration of the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, convoked by Pope Benedict XVI. Brought back to Hebei, he served a period of detention in Xuanhua.

Fr. Cui Tai, underground priest of the diocese of Xuanhua (Hebei)
Fr. Cui disappeared in police custody June 22, 2011. That day some personalities of the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau dragged him away and since then he has disappeared without trace.
He had often been arrested and then released. During his periods of detention, he suffered hunger and his health has drastically deteriorated. In 1993, undergoing a sentence of three years in prison, was beaten and lost two teeth.
In 2001, due to an accident, the police discovered his identity as a priest and detained him in an isolated place in the mountains, forcing him to undergo political sessions and brainwashing. He was later released, but could never freely carry out his ministry, being under constant surveillance.

Bishops and priests who are detained or imprisoned

Fr. Liu Honggen, underground priest of the diocese of Baoding (Hebei)
Fr. Liu and eight other priests were arrested in the village of Xinanzuo (Qingyuan County, Hebei), 27 December 2006. He is currently detained in the prison of Qingyuan

Fr. Ma Wuyong, underground priest of the diocese of Baoding (Hebei)
Fr. Ma and 8 other priests were arrested in August 2004 in the village of Suijiazhuang (Quyang County, Hebei). The priests had gathered to celebrate their first year of ordination. At least 20 police cars arrived at the place carrying out a door to door search and arrest them. Fr. Ma is currently held in a prison in Qingyuan.
Before the Chinese New Year 2006, Fr. Ma was temporarily released from prison. He was re-arrested a month later, after attending the funeral of a priest of Baoding, Fr. Chen Baidu.

Fr. Wang Chengli, underground priest of the Diocese of Heze (Shandong)
On 25 August 2011, Fr. Wang, 48, was sentenced to two and a half years of "re-education through labor" (forced labour) probably because he refused to join the Patriotic Association. To serve his sentence, the priest was transferred from Dongming prison to Jining concentration camp, over 150 miles from his county.

Msgr. Wu Qinjing, official bishop of the diocese of Zhouzhi (Shaanxi)
Since November 2007 the government has forced this young bishop to remain imprisoned in the minor seminary in Xian and limits his activities. Bishop Wu was secretly ordained as a bishop of the official diocese of Zhouzhi, but without the permission of the local Patriotic Association. For this reason, since his ordination was made public (May 2006), the government has blocked all of his activities and has kidnapped him, forcing him to memorize the "Regulations on Religious Affairs". He is forbidden to carry the Episcopal insignia or carry out any activities as a bishop. He is still under house arrest at the seminary in Xian.