Bishop Zhu Baoyu, pictured in 2017, was secretly ordained as coadjutor bishop of Nanyang in 1995. (Photo: UCA News)
Bishop Joseph Zhu Baoyu of Nanyang Diocese, believed to be the world's oldest person to have survived Covid-19 when he recovered in February, died in his sleep on May 7, diocesan sources said. He was 98.
His funeral is scheduled for May 9, with his successor Bishop Pietro Jin Lugang to preside.
Chinese authorities have banned foreigners from attending the funeral as a measure to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, officials told UCA News.
Bishop Zhu was diagnosed with pneumonia on Feb. 3 and admitted to the central hospital in Nanyang in southwest China. He tested positive for Covid-19.
When he left hospital on Feb. 14, he reportedly became the oldest person to have recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
The bishop also suffered from an irregular heartbeat and a lung disorder.His successor Bishop Jin is the first underground bishop to be publicly accepted by the Chinese government following the September 2018 China-Vatican agreement on the appointment of bishops.
Following Bishop Zhu's death, Bishop Jin automatically succeeds him as a bishop recognized by the state and the Vatican.
Bishop Zhu had been leading a retired life in a convent in the diocese under the care of its nuns.
Father Sergio Ticozzi, who knew Bishop Zhu for many years, told UCA News that a nun told him that even on the day before his death, the bishop recited prayers with nuns and blessed them.
Father Ticozzi, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said Bishop Zhu was in a wheelchair when he visited him two years ago.
The priest said Bishop Zhu was a "down-to-earth and humble" person. When he was in good health, he used to walk and take public transport to visit parishioners. He was very active in pastoral work, the priest said.
Some parishioners who visited Bishop Zhu in recent years told UCA News that the bishop enjoyed simple food and lived with the bare minimum of facilities.
Bishop Zhu was born on July 2, 1921, in Pushan, Nanyang city. His father died when he was six. He grew up in an orphanage and was baptized at the age of eight.
He was ordained a priest in 1957 by Bishop Fan Xueyan of Baoding Diocese in Hebei.
Bishop Zhu was imprisoned by communist authorities and suffered "reform through hard labor" for nearly 20 years.
He was secretly ordained as coadjutor bishop of Nanyang Diocese at the age of 73 on the feast of St. Joseph's on March 19, 1995.
Bishop Zhu was appointed bishop of Nanyang on Nov. 21, 2002, at the age of 81.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation in 2010.