China Aid Association
(CHINA – VATICAN — 26 August, 2006) AsiaNews sources said the bishop is well. The prelate has been recognized by the government but has managed not to register with the Patriotic Association. Six other bishops are still detained in Hebei.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Mgr Francis An Shuxin, auxiliary bishop of Baoding (Hebei), was released on August 24th by the Chinese authorities after 10 years in prison. Chinese sources of AsiaNews managed to contact him by phone.
The sources said the bishop was released because he accepted to be recognized by the government but without registering with the Patriotic Association (PA), the organization set by the Communist Party to control the Catholic Church; its aim is to construct a church independent of Rome.
Mgr An Shuxin, 57 years, was arrested in May 1996 in a raid ordered by the then-President, Jiang Zemin, against the underground seminary of Baoding (Hebei), which the bishop was also in charge of. After his arrest, the seminary was disbanded and priests on the formation team were arrested.
Until yesterday, there was no news of him at all, although churches, governments, and organizations persisted in calling for his liberation. According to the Kung Foundation, an American organization that lobbies for the Church’s freedom in China, the only time the bishop was seen was in 2000, when the police allowed him to visit his mother, who was very elderly, to mark the Chinese New Year. He had told her: “I will see you in heaven.”
AsiaNews sources that talked to the bishop said he had been “treated well” throughout these years, although his movements were restricted. However, during this time, testimonies of priests and bishops who were tortured came from Hebei itself.
Hebei is the region with the highest number of Catholics (1.5 million), most of them belonging to the underground Church that refuses to be subject to the control of the PA. The PA launched a campaign of arrests of bishops, priests and believers of Hebei in a bid to subdue them. According to information of AsiaNews, at least another six underground bishops of Hebei disappeared after arrest. Among them is the Ordinary of the diocese of Baoding, James Su Zhimin, 73 years, who was arrested in 1997.
The solution that lead to the release of Mgr An Shuxin — government recognition, refusing to join the PA — seems on the one hand to safeguard the bishops’ tenacious loyalty to the Holy See, and on the other, it gives a guarantee of official status to the government. AsiaNews sources confirmed that this position was suggested by the Vatican to attain the release of imprisoned bishops and priests and to achieve more and more the integration of the official Church, recognized by the government, and the underground Church, considered by Beijing to be “illegal”.
So far, only one another bishop has been in the same situation: Mgr Lucas Li Jingfeng, bishop of Fengxiang (Shaanxi). Mgr Li is one of four bishops who was invited by Benedict XVI to the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005 and who was prevented by Beijing — together with the other three — from going to Rome..
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