07/08/2010, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Mgr Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop, released after 15 months

by Wang Zhicheng
The prelate celebrated Mass last night with about a hundred faithful. He was originally arrested when the Patriotic Association tried to stop the official and underground Church from seeking unity as desired by the Holy See. Mgr Jia reassured the faithful that he did not join the Patriotic Association.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – Mgr Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), was released yesterday morning after 15 months of detention in an unknown location.  Last night, surrounded by a hundred faithful, he celebrated Mass in the cathedral of Wuqiu village (pictured) where he lives.

It is unclear why the authorities released the prelate. In the past, Mgr Jia was often arrested and then released months later. During the periods in detention, he was usually kept alone in a single room and subjected to individual political indoctrination sessions to convince him to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the Communist Party organisation that is trying to create a national Church without links to the Holy See.

Speaking to members of his congregation, he made the point of saying that he did not join the CPCA, nor that he accepted to the authority of the government-approved Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China [this Conference is not accepted by the Vatican because it does not include the undergound bishops and is meant to be "independent" (duli) from the Holy See].

Sources told AsiaNews that his latest arrest was meant to undermine Vatican attempts to reconcile official and underground Church in Hebei, the region with the highest number of Catholics.

Mgr Jia, underground bishop, had made up with Mgr Jang Taoran, official bishop of Shijiazhuang (Hebei). The two prelates got together often and had begun to work on a joint pastoral plan. However, as soon as the CPCA found out, the two men were told to stop meeting, and were placed under 24 hour police watch.

According to local Catholics, police warned Mgr Jia Zhiguo that “working together was a bad idea because a foreign power like the Vatican was behind it. If they [the two prelates] want to cooperate they should do it through the government and the CPCA.”

Given Mgr Jia’s resistance to joining the CPCA, police tried to mock the prelate, saying that the government was going to name someone in his place, and that “it was time for him to retire since he was ill.”

Such harassment was eventually followed by his arrest on 30 March 2009 when the Plenary Commission of the Church in China met in the Vatican. At that time, the Holy See expressed its “deep sorrow” for Mgr Jia’s arrest, and for the situation of “other bishops and priests deprived of their freedom.”

With Mgr Jia’s release, two underground bishops remain in prison: Mgr James Su Zhimin (Baoding diocese, Hebei), 76, who was arrested in 1996 and whose whereabouts are still unknown, and Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang (Yixian diocese, Hebei), 87, arrested on 13 April 2001 and still missing.

About ten priests are in prison or in forced labour camps.

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