China: the Vatican denounces the arrest of bishop, priest and layperson

Meanwhile in China, news on the Pope's condition disappear from Internet.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) -- The Director of the Vatican Press Office, Joaquin Navarro Valls, denounced today the arrest of several Catholics in China.  The Bishop of Wenzhou, Msgr James Lin Xili, age 86, was arrested last March 20 on Palm Sunday. He was taken away by security forces, but the reason for his arrest is unknown.  A priest, Fr Thomas Zhao Kexiun, of the Diocese of Xuanhua in Hebei, was arrested last March 30 while returning home from a funeral.  The reason for the arrest in his case as well is unknown, as is his place of detention.

The Vatican points out that the Bishop of Xuanhua Diocese, Msgr Phillip Peter Zhao Zhendong, was also arrested January 3rd of this year and is being held in the city of Jiangjiakou. Then, on March 22 in the Diocese of Wenzhou, police arrested Gao Xinyou, a collaborator in the pastoral for the laity in the Longgang area.

The news of Fr. Zhao Kexiun's arrest had already been reported by AsiaNews; Bishop Lin Xili is among those named on the list published by AsiaNews of 18 bishops and 19 priests in prison or in isolation in China. He is one of the bishops of the underground Church who are periodically arrested and subjected to brainwashing sessions to force them to register with the the Patriotic Association, the entity through which the Chinese Communist Party controls Catholics: among its aims is to create a Church independent from the pope.

The Vatican statement comes just as various media are speculating on the attention being given by China to the dying Pope. Yesterday, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, said in a press conference that he wished the Pope a "speedy recovery". Yesterday, the Xinhua agency and the People's Daily also gave ample summaries on the health of Pope Jean Paul II.  Internet sites and chat groups were full of news and forums on the figure of the Pope.  But, AsiaNews sources in Beijing say that today news on the Pope disappeared from all Internet sites; neither a picture nor a line was to be found on television or in newspapers.

For some observers, such Internet censorship stems from a specific government concern: overly free discussion on the figure of John Paul II, known by all as a champion of human rights and human dignity, risks generating strong criticisms against the Chinese government, which has always been hostile to him as the Pope who "brought down Communism."

Another serious concern faced by the government of Beijing is that, in case of the Pope's funeral, Taiwanese President Chen Shuibian could participate in the ceremony as head of state (the Vatican has diplomatic relations with Taiwan), while People's China would not be represented.

Beijing broke relations with the Holy See in 1951, expelling the then nuncio, Msgr Antonio Riberi. China has always set two conditions for the re-establishment of relations: namely, that the Vatican not interfere in religious matters in China (by not being involved in the naming of bishops) and that it break ties with Taiwan.