07/18/2007, 00.00
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Mgr Zhao Zhendong, bishop of Xuanhua, dies

Despite a long illness, prelate did not stop providing pastoral care to the faithful. In his last days he was studying Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to Chinese Catholics, an important document to promote unity among the faithful.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – After suffering ill health for the past few months, underground Bishop Philippus Petrus Zhao Zhendong of Xuanhua, seat of the Suffragan Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Beijing, passed away on July 13, a day short of his 87th birthday, UCA News reported.Catholic sources in Hebei told the news agency that the bishop, who had heart problems and diabetes for years, had tried to unite the underground and official Catholic communities since taking over as head of the diocese in 1999.

Despite his illness, Mgr Zhao had not stopped his pastoral care for the faithful.

Before he died, he was studying the letter that Pope Benedict recently wrote to mainland Catholics. He viewed the document as an important element in advancing unity in the diocese.

Bishop Zhou's work at reconciling the two communities resulted in several meetings between clergy from the two groups.

He had also ordered that all "house churches" in the diocese be closed so Catholics could worship in proper Church buildings, some of which have been registered with the government.

Although there are no bans on participating in the funeral, scheduled for next Sunday in Yuxian, the authorities will require faithful attending to sign a registry in order to get in.

Coadjutor Bishop Thomas Zhao Kexun automatically succeeded the late bishop. However, some Church sources say that since the late bishop fell seriously ill, the coadjutor has been in hiding to avoid trouble with government officials.

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