Tug of war between government and faithful over burial of Tangshan bishop Liu Jinghe
by Jian Mei
Faithful hold vigil over the body for two days. They expect a police raid to force them to bury the bishop in common ground. Bishop Liu wanted to be buried in the Catholic cemetery, seized by the Party in the 50s. Diocese website shut down for a while. Telephones of priests and nuns under control.

Beijing ( AsiaNews) - For two days, the faithful of the Diocese of Tangshan (Hebei ) have been keeping vigil over the body of Msgr. Paul Liu Jinghe , who died last December 11. The vigil in the cathedral is not just about prayer : they want to stop the Tangshan police from forcibly taking the corpse to bury it in common ground and not in the Catholic cemetery, according to the deceased bishop's wishes.

The tension in the diocese is very high: yesterday all the parish priests were forced to take part in a meeting with the State Administration for Religious Affairs , after they published an open letter .  The website of the diocese was shut down for a while and cel phones placed under control. Now the website is working.

The faithful expect the police to raid the cathedral today forcing the common burial of the remains of the bishop  who died at 92 years of age.

Bishop Liu Jinghe, who died on December 11 , had been a "patriotic" bishop ordained without Holy See mandate, but later reconciled with the Pope , and lived as a witness to the faith, resisting the pressure of the regime and Patriotic Association and refusing to participate in illicit ordinations .

Before dying, he expressed a wish to be buried in the Catholic cemetery of Lulong , where the first bishop of the diocese, the Dutch Lazarist Msgr. Ernst Geurts, who died in 1940 are buried. In the past, many priests and nuns were also buried there. It is probable that Msgr. Liu's desire to be buried next to Msgr. Geurts and other missionaries is emphasize his unity and belonging to the universal Church.

In the '50s, with the rise to power of the Communist Party, the cemetery of Lulong was desecrated and ordered destroyed. After a period of neglect, the vast plot of land - about 2.7 acres - was converted into agricultural land. Bishop Liu has asked authorities many times to be returned the ground, but only in 1993 did was the diocese given permission to use a small part to rebury the remains of Msgr. Geurts and other priests and nuns.

On the death of Mgr. Liu , the diocese asked authorities permission to bury their bishop in Lulong , as was his wish , but the government refused point blank, proposing a maximum contribution of 200 thousand yuan (about 33 thousand dollars) for the purchase of other ground to use as a cemetery.

From the legal point of view, with a law passed by Deng Xiaoping, all land requisitioned by the Party in the past, if they do not have a public use , should be returned to its rightful owners . The return of the land is very rare, with the party members more often using property for speculative purposes.

Also in this case it is not clear why the government does not want to return the old cemetery to its rightful owners, rewarding farmers who still use the land .