China: two Catholic priests missing, 35 bishops 'disappeared' or jailed

 Two Catholic priests have gone missing after being arrested on their way to a Marian shrine near Beijing, the Cardinal King Foundation reported yesterday. The group also highlighted the plight of 35 bishops who are in prison, under house arrest of 'disappeared'. Fathers Zhang Jianlin, 42, and Jia Zhiguo, 45, both priests from Zhangjiakou prefecture near the capital, have not been seen since they were apprehended in late May, the Foundation said. Both priests were taken into custody as they travelled to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan along with thousands of Chinese pilgrims. The entire underground clergy of the Shanghai Diocese was also placed under house arrest during the month of May in order to prevent them from making pilgrimage to Sheshan. Other underground Catholics were warned by the government official not to visit Sheshan on May 24. There has been no news on the two priests since their arrests. The Foundation said: "We do not know what is happening to them and where they are. The underground diocese of Xuanhua has many houses dedicated to prayers. They have now all been forbidden by the Chinese authorities to be used as prayer-houses. Those larger houses have now been fitted with video cameras by the authorities in order to have continuous monitoring of these houses of worship to make sure that no prayers are to be recited there." The Foundation also expressed concerns about Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, the elderly Roman Catholic Bishop of Zhengding. He has been arrested and imprisoned more than 11 times in the past 18 years but was finally let out of prison on December 14, 2007. However, Bishop Jia's release did not bring about his 'freedom' to carry out his episcopal duties. Bishop Jia is now under house arrest, confined in the living quarters of his cathedral, Christ the King Church in Wu Qiu. He is not allowed to receive visitors except on a few rare occasions when the visits were supervised and accompanied by the government officials. Near Christ the King Church, the public police bureau has set up an observation post in order to monitor the activities of visitors. The government has a unit of six officers patrolling the vicinity of the church 24 hours a day, forbidding visitors Bishop Jia, or to approach the church. Bishop Jia is seriously sick with a constant tremor of his right hand. He has requested medical treatment outside of his living quarters, but was denied by the authority. Bishop Jia, almost 74 years old, was consecrated a bishop as the bishop of Zhengding, Heibei on December 19, 1980 mandated by the Pope. He has spent 18 years in prison. Zhengding is a small village situated approximately 100 miles south of Beijing. It has approximately 110,000 Catholics. Bishop Jia is also caring for approximately 100 abandoned handicapped orphans. This orphanage is greatly in need of financial help. There are approximately 35 underground bishops in China. Every one of them is either in prison, disappeared, under house arrests, or under surveillance. Bishops Su Zhimin, Bishop of Baoding, and Shi Enxiang, Bishop of Yixian, were arrested in October 1997 and April 2001 respectively. There has been no news on these two bishops since then. Both have now disappeared. The Cardinal King Foundation said: ""We do not know if they are still alive. Bishop Han DinXiang, the Bishop of Yong Nian, was arrested in December 1999, and disappeared in the last two years. He died suddenly in prison on September 9, 2007 in a very mysterious and suspicious circumstances. He was not allowed a Catholic burial. Instead, by order of the government, the Bishop was cremated and buried within six hours of his death." "The persecution of religious believers is very much alive in China and ongoing regardless of the fact that the Olympics games will be held in China less than a month away" the group said. The Vatican estimates that up to 12 million Chinese people worship in the nation's underground Catholic Church, which remains loyal to the Pope. A further five million are members of the state-sanctioned 'patriotic' Catholic Church which is administered by the ruling Communist Party. Chinese authorities have rounded up numerous political dissidents and rights activists ahead of the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics amid government concerns of social unrest during the event. In his pastoral letter to China last year, Pope Benedict XVI established May 24 as the day "for Catholics around the world to be united in prayer with the Church in China." Source: Cardinal King Foundation

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