SHANGHAI, China (AP) - Archbishop Anthony Li Du'an of Xi'an, an important figure in China's divided Catholic church, died Thursday after a two-year battle with liver cancer, a church official said. He was 79.
Li played a major role in the church's rebirth following severe persecution during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. He was also a strong advocate of reconciliation between the Vatican and China's officially approved church which have no formal ties and have repeatedly feuded over the appointment of bishops and other issues.
Li's death "is a loss to the Xi'an religious district and is also a loss for the Chinese religious association," Liu Bainian, secretary-general of the China Patriotic Catholic Association said.
Li had walked a narrow line between fidelity to Rome and the demands of the Catholic association controlled by Liu, a layman responsible for enforcing strict Communist Party controls over the church.
While a member of the state-sanctioned church, Li was also "a supporter and friend of pontiffs," the Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews agency reported.
Beijing-Vatican relations have been aggravated recently by China's appointment of bishops not approved by the pope. The Holy See's insistence that it has the final say on appointments of bishops and Beijing's refusal to relinquish control are among the thorniest issues dividing the sides.
China has about 16 million Catholics — more than Ireland — but priests and congregants in the underground churches are frequently harassed, fined and sometimes sent to labor camps.
Li's funeral is scheduled for May 31, according to the Web site of the Xi'an Diocese.
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