Xie Shingguang, the underground Catholic Bishop of Mingdong, Diocese of Fujian, passed away on Thursday August 25, according to a BBC news report. The Vatican praises the late bishop as a "courageous witness to Christ", who was imprisoned by the Chinese government for some 28 years for his allegiance to the Pope.
Bishop Xie has been a devoted Catholic for almost his whole life. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1949, the same year when the Communist rule of Mao Tse-Tung began.
The activities of Christianity in China have been restricted by the government by law. As the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) started under the Communist rule, only the state-sanctioned "Three-self Church" is accepted by the government. Roman Catholic churches that are loyal to the Pope in Rome are therefore banned. Even in the officially recognized church, bishops are appointed by the state.
Xie was one of those who refused to join the official church. He has been serving as a bishop since January 25, 1984. The underground Catholics in his diocese, Mingdong, in Fujian province outnumber 75,000, the AsiaNews reported.
As an underground bishop, Xie cannot escape from the persecution of the Chinese authorities. The Vatican radio recalled that Bishop Xie was first arrested in 1955 by Chinese authorities "because of his loyalty and obedience to the pope" and released a year later. He was next arrested in 1958 and stayed jail until his release in 1980.
Xie was also jailed from 1984-1987, and finally for two years starting in 1990, and was kept under surveillance by authorities until his death, the Vatican radio report said.
The relationship between China and the Holy See was broken in 1951 shortly after the Communist Party took power, probably because of the initiative of the Chinese government to tighten religious freedom and refusal to link with the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. Chinese who are loyal to the pope are labeled unofficial congregations, many underground priests and bishops have also been arrested.
According to China's authorities the state-sanctioned church has about four million members, while the Vatican says the Roman Catholic Church there has over 10 million worshippers.
The Vatican radio said the suffering of Bishop Xie, reminded believers the improving relations between the Holy See and China recently. Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized again and again the challenge to unite all China's Catholics under the Vatican's wings.
The 88-year-old Bishop Xie was died of leukemia on Thursday. He was diagnosed with the cancer in May.