CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 June 2018

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Appeal to include aged bishop in amnesty

HONG KONG (SE): Catholic people in Hebei province have renewed their appeal for the release of long-imprisoned Bishop James Su Zhimin, from the unofficial Church community in Baoding.

The request came after the president, Xi Jinping, granted amnesty to jailed war veterans, as well as bedridden or disabled elderly prisoners on August 29 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“Though we do not know about his health condition, it is imaginable that the life condition of an elderly man in his 80s must be like a candle in the wind. After being detained for 18 years, his leadership, his organising ability and influence in the Church have already diminished,” the petition, sent to the United Front Work Department in Baoding, the department of the Communist Party that oversees religious affairs, points out.

The petition adds that releasing Bishop Su would bring “unmeasurable positive and realistic meaning to the country.”

Eighty-two-year-old Bishop Su, who had never belonged to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and was not recognised by the government, was arrested in 1996 and deemed a counter-revolutionary by the Communist government for refusing to join the association.

He escaped detention in 1997 before being re-arrested. His family discovered him by chance at a Baoding hospital in 2003. He has not been seen in public since.

His family had appealed to United Front officials from Beijing last October. A second appeal in January to Yu Zhengsheng, a standing committee member of the Politburo, resulted in several days of house arrest for some of his family.

The latest petition was signed by Su Tianyou, Bishop Su’s nephew and a lay leader in Baoding; Father Pietro Cui Xingang, former rector of Baoding’s Donglu Marian Shrine, who is now in Rome; and Father Lu Genjun, the vicar-general of Baoding’s unofficial Church community, who was released in August 2014 after eight years detention.

However, at an August 28 meeting, United Front Work officials told the bishop’s family that the arrest of Bishop Su at the time was made by the Political and Legal Commission and that they did not know the bishop’s current whereabouts.

“The officials said the bishop is a bargaining chip. It is difficult to release him if China-Vatican relations do not improve,” one of his family said.

Two other bishops from Hebei have also been missing since they were arrested by the authorities. 

Coadjutor Bishop Cui Tai, from Xuanhua, disappeared after being arrested in August 2014, while 94-year-old Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, from Yixing, disappeared 14 years ago.

There were reports that Bishop Shi had died in detention in January. However, a government authority later denied that he was dead, but refused to disclose his location.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, thousands of war veterans are being pardoned in the eighth amnesty since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Amnesty was granted to thousands of prisoners who are not deemed a threat to society and had been sentenced before January 1 this year, including criminals who fought against the Japanese and the Kuomintang troops of Chiang Kai-shek during the 1946 to 1949 Chinese civil war, Xinhua reported.


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