China-Approved Priest with Underground Ties Dies at 103

( [email protected] ) Jan 15, 2007 01:53 PM EST

BEIJING (AP) - The Rev. Joseph Meng Ziwen, a Roman Catholic clergyman in China since the 1930s who secretly served as a bishop to underground congregations while working as a priest in the Communist Party-sanctioned church, has died at 103.

Meng died Jan. 7 in the southern city of Nanning, where he was a priest for the state-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. An official with the association, which oversees Catholic churches, confirmed the death but would not disclose a cause.

AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, said Meng died from liver cancer.

Meng secretly served from 1984 to 2003 as bishop to underground churches, which operate outside the state-sanctioned system, according to a biography released by the Holy Spirit Study Center, a Catholic research center in Hong Kong.

Tens of millions of Chinese worship in underground churches that remain loyal to the Vatican in defiance of a 1951 order by the ruling party for China's Catholics to sever ties with Rome.

Born in 1903, Meng studied in Malaysia, was ordained a priest in 1935 and later served as a seminary teacher, the Holy Spirit Study Center's biography said.

Following the 1949 communist revolution, he was sent to a labor camp in 1951 and spent 20 years in captivity, the biography said. It said that after his release, he helped to rebuild the church in the Nanning area by helping to train young Chinese priests.

Meng was ordained a bishop in 1984 by a bishop of China's underground church, according to the Holy Spirit Study Center.

Its biography quoted Meng as saying that when a Chinese official asked him whether he really was a bishop and who appointed him, he replied, "I was chosen by the Catholic Church and that is enough for me."

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