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LEADER OF UNDERGROUND CHURCH COMMUNITY BISHOP JOSEPH FAN XUEYAN DIES

Updated: April 23, 1992 05:00 PM GMT
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Vatican-appointed Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding (Paoting) in Hebei province, northern China, died in mid-April at the age of 85.

The exact date and place of his death are yet to be confirmed.

Catholic sources in Hebei said Bishop Fan died at home in Baoding city, on April 16 Holy Thursday, and his body had not been buried by April 23.

Anthony Liu Bainian, a Beijing-based official of national Catholic organizations, told UCA News April 23 that Bishop Fan died April 13, and it was unlikely he died at home. Liu did not know about funeral arrangements.

Bishop Fan, not affiliated with the government-approved open Church, was an influential prelate among underground Catholics and highly regarded overseas. He reportedly never consented to the open Church nor compromised his allegiance to the pope.

Born on Dec. 29, 1907, he was ordained a priest in 1934 for Wanxian diocese in Sichuan, a southwestern province. He was made a bishop June 24, 1951, one of the last bishops officially appointed by the pope before China severed ties with the Vatican in 1958.

Most of his 41 years as a bishop were spent in jail, reform-through-labor camp or under surveillance.

In 1958, he was arrested for the first time and sentenced to 15 years´ imprisonment for his opposition "to the Chinese Church´s decision on its anti-imperialist, self-governing policy" and for having "stubbornly refused to accept" the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, according to a 1984 China report of Amnesty International (AI), a human rights monitor based in London.

After the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in 1979, he was released and stayed with relatives near Baoding city, 150 kilometers south of Beijing.

In the early 1980s, Bishop Fan secretly ordained three bishops and a few priests, and managed to correspond with Pope John Paul II with a few letters, a Catholic source said.

In late 1982, he was held a second time with his vicar general Father Huo Binzhang. Both were sentenced to 10 years´ jail for "colluding with foreign forces to jeopardize the sovereignty and security of the motherland," apparently referring to their loyalty to the Vatican, the AI report noted.

Both were jailed at a prison in Shijiazhuang, provincial capital of Hebei. Bishop Fan was compelled to do daily heavy work.

In 1987, Bishop Fan was released, but remained under house arrest. Confined to a church compound in Baoding, he was barred from meeting his followers on feast days and instead was taken on "tours" by police on those occasions.

Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila was not allowed to meet Bishop Fan in 1987 during the Filipino cardinal´s second visit to Beijing. Cardinal Sin did meet the former Communist Party secretary Zhao Ziyang.

On Nov. 21, 1989, Bishop Fan was elected honorary president of the Chinese Bishops´ Conference on the Mainland, formed by the underground bishops at Zhangerce village in Shaanxi province, northwestern China.

In 1990, he retired as bishop of Baoding. Sources quoted him as saying: "I have said what I had to say, and done what I had to do."

He was succeeded by Bishop Chen Jianzhang. Bishop Chen later disappeared with the nearly-blind Auxiliary Bishop Paul Shi Chunjie, who died November 1991 in police custody. Bishop Chen is said to be ill.

Toward the end of November 1990, Bishop Fan once again disappeared from Baoding. Since then, his whereabouts have been unknown.

In the 1980s, AI, and Washington-based human rights monitor Puebla Institute adopted him as a "prisoner of conscience." The American-run Free the Fathers and New York-based Asia Watch also urged the Chinese government to release him.

-- The "Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Annual) 1992" notes Bishop Fan as head of Baoding diocese and Father Huo as his vicar general.

Father Huo died on Feb. 19, 1992 at the age of 82, a Catholic source in Hong Kong told UCA News in early April. He was jailed in 1982 and freed in 1988. He had suffered from cancer since 1990.

END

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