Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian (ucanews.com file photo)
Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian, an underground bishop who has not been seen since his arrest 14 years ago, has died at age 94, a relative said on the weekend.
Shi, who hailed from Hebei province, was arrested on April 13, 2001 at his niece’s home in Beijing and held without charge since then in a secret location.
“We were informed by Baoding city government officials on Friday morning but they did not say when he died exactly or the cause of his death,” his great-niece Shi Chunyan, 42, told ucanews.com on Saturday.
“We are now waiting for the prelate, whether it be his body or ashes, to be returned to Shizhuang, our hometown, before we decide what to do next,” she said.
“My parents and the bishop’s other siblings are particularly sad. They had been unsuccessfully trying to discover his whereabouts for many years. Now the answer to their questions is that he is dead,” she said.
It was unclear whether authorities would return the late prelate’s body to his family.
“The Shi family has not heard anything further since the phone call on Friday. Shizhuang is part of Baoding so it should not take long to return his body,” a Church source told ucanews.com on Monday.
Catholics across China have expressed sadness since news of Shi’s death spread on social media. Many said they felt proud they had another “martyr in the Church” in postings on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
With the death of Shi, Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding is the only remaining underground bishop still languishing in secret detention.
Bishop Zu has been held secretly without charge since his arrest in October 1997.
Four of his relatives who intended to demand his whereabouts from Yu Zhengsheng, a Politburo standing committee member, were detained at a Baoding guesthouse for three days last week, Church sources said.
Yu was paying a visit to Hebei between January 29 and 31, during which he spoke to Catholic leaders in Baoding.
Bishop Shi was born in 1921 and ordained a priest in 1947. He was first arrested in 1954 and went on to suffer long periods of imprisonment between 1957 and 1980. Much of that time was spent doing hard labor, first at a labor camp in Heilongjiang province, then in coalmines in Shanxi province.
After returning to Hebei, he was arrested and imprisoned briefly again in 1981 for practicing his ministry.
He was secretly ordained Auxiliary Bishop of Yixian in 1982 and became the ordinary in 1995 after his predecessor Bishop Liu Guandong retired.
In 1989, Bishop Shi was arrested again and later released in 1993 as a result of international pressure.
He was arrested for the final time on Good Friday, 2001.