ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: October 24, 2017 04:59 AM GMT
Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding before his disappearance in 1997. (ucanews.com file photo)
Chinese Catholics in Hebei province have repeated an appeal for the release of long-imprisoned underground Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding.
The request came after Chinese President Xi Jinping granted amnesty on Aug. 29 to jailed war veterans and bedridden or disabled elderly prisoners to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
"Though we do not know his health condition, it is imaginable that an elderly man in his 80s must be ailing like a candle in the wind. Detaining [the bishop] for 18 years, by now his leadership, his organizing ability and influence in the Church have already diminished," the petitioners wrote in a letter to Baoding's United Front Work Department, the Communist Party department that oversees religious affairs.
The petitioners said releasing Bishop Su would bring "unmeasurable positive and realistic meaning to the country".
Bishop Su, 82, was arrested in 1996 and deemed a "counterrevolutionary" by the Communist government for refusing to join the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic 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 family members.
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 serving in Rome, and Father Lu Genjun, vicar-general of Baoding's underground community who was released in August 2014 after eight years of detention.
However, in an Aug. 28 meeting, United Front Work officials told family members that the arrest of Bishop Su at the time was made by the party's Political and Legal Commission and that they did not know the bishop's current whereabouts, a source close to the bishop's family told ucanews.com.
"The officials said the bishop is a bargaining chip. It is difficult to release him if China-Vatican relations do not improve," the source added.
Two other Hebei bishops also have been missing since being arrested by Chinese authorities. Coadjutor Bishop Cui Tai of Xuanhua disappeared after being arrested in August 2014 while Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, 94, of Yixing disappeared 14 years ago.
A source earlier told ucanews.com that Bishop Shi died in detention in January. However, a government authority later denied Bishop Shi 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.
The amnesty was being granted to thousands of prisoners who were not deemed a threat to society and sentenced before Jan. 1 this year, including criminals who fought against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang troops during the 1946-49 Chinese civil war, Xinhua said.
The amnesty also covered those over 75 years old, disabled or unable to care for themselves, Xinhua said. The oldest was aged 95.