Bishop John Han Dingxian, the underground bishop of Yongnian, has died in detention. He was 68. AsiaNews reports that the prelate was suffering from lung cancer. His body was reportedly cremated within a few hours of his death and his ashes interred in a public cemetery without any religious ceremony. After being held at an unknown location for two years, the bishop was recently hospitalised in Shijiazhuang, a priest from Yongnian told the news agency. When he went into a coma, the authorities summoned his close relatives. Officials from the government-approved diocese of Handan (which includes the territory covered by the underground Yongnian diocese) said that they would celebrate Masses in memory of Bishop Han. Locally the official and underground Church had established a good level of co-operation. Bishop Han, who has always been a member of the underground Catholic community, was first arrested in 1960 for "counter-revolutionary activities" and sent to a reform-through-labour farm in north-eastern China. After he was released in 1979 when Deng Xiaping came to power, he returned to his diocese, where he taught at a local high school. He was finally ordained a priest in 1986 and became bishop three years later, taking the post as an underground prelate in Yongnian. In 1999 he was arrested by the police for conducting a religious retreat for nuns. After about four years of detention, he was moved to a flat on top of a police station, where he stayed for another two years. Sources told AsiaNews that the bishop was well-respected by the staff at the station and was actually allowed to celebrate Mass. However, he could not have contacts with the outside world. Some faithful said they remember seeing him from time to time looking out of the window of his fourth floor flat. In 2005 he was moved to an unknown location and no one heard anything about him until the news of his death. AsiaNews had begun a campaign for his release, with support of the European parliament and the US Bishops' Conference. Many thanks to Lord Alton for sending us this news.
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