An underground Roman Catholic bishop who was jailed for 24 years in China because of his loyalty to the Vatican, died of heart failure at the age of 90, according to a US-based religious foundation.
Bishop Peter Chang Bai Ren died in Hangyang in China's Hubei Province at 6:05 pm (Beijing time) on Oct 12, the Cardinal Kung Foundation released in a statement.
He was born on Feb 14, 1915. In 1937-1945, he studied at Pontificio Collegio Urbano in Rome where he received a P.h.D. in theology. He became an ordained priest in 1942.
When Bishop Chang returned to China, he was jailed in 1955 for his allegiance to the Pope and was told to denounce his beliefs. His refusal led to 24 years in prison, but was released in 1979.
A few years later, he became an officially recognized bishop by the Vatican in 1986.
Joseph Kung told AFP (Agence News France) about the situation of the bishops recognized by the Vatican and said, "China has between 35 and 40 underground bishops and almost every one of them is either in jail, under house arrest, under severe surveillance or on the run."
Even though, China currently has no ties with the Vatican, the government has allowed a funeral service for Chang to be held openly on Saturday in Xiantao, Hubei Province in China, the Vatican-affiliated Asia News said.
"It's allowable and understandable for the faithful to hold a funeral for him," the head of Hubei's Religious Affairs Bureau, surnamed Zhu told Reuters.
"We respected him," he said to Reuters, "but the government will not recognize his identity as a bishop."
However, a professor of Catholic history at China’s Jinan University Tang Kaijian told Reuters, "If this public funeral happens, then it would be a sign of a new policy," because he said that he has been noticing that "relations between China and Vatican [are showing] an easing trend."
In 1951, the relationship between China and the Vatican were severed as the Communist Party took control of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, but Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to warm the relationship, saying since April that he is trying to make an effort to connect with China.
The state-sanctioned Catholic church is believed to have about four million followers, according to official figures, meanwhile based on Vatican estimates, the underground church has around 10 million, AFP reported.