In 1997, Underground Bishop James Su Zhimin of the Diocese of Baoding in China refused to join the communist state-approved “Church,” the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
After he refused to join the CCPA, he was arrested by Chinese officials in 1996 during a religious procession while conducting “unregistered religious activities.” It wasn’t his first time being arrested: the Human Rights Commission says he has spent 40 years in prison “without charge, without trial.”
“Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps. The Chinese government deemed him as ‘counterrevolutionary’ because, since the 1950s, he has refused to join the Patriotic Association.”
Bishop Zhimin reportedly escaped imprisonment in 1997, but was shortly rearrested. He was last seen in November of 2003.
“In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital in Baoding, surrounded by police and public security. He has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries.”
His whereabouts since then have been unknown. Bishop Zhimin’s nephew, Su Tianyou said last year:
“His whereabouts are unknown and I don’t even know if he is alive or not. I am upset with tears every time I think of this 87-year-old man. Please pray for him.”
Bishop Zhimin was born in 1932 and given there has been no sight of him for 17 years, he is now presumed to be dead. Quoting a diocesan source who had a meeting with a local government official, his nephew said Monday that his uncle is with Lord. (Local government officials could not confirm Su Tianyou’s claims.)
His nephew said the communist regime is asking the Vatican to appoint Coadjutor Bishop Francis An so the local Catholics will submit to state authority; the underground community has been refusing to accept An – Zhimin’s former assistant – as their bishop.
According to An, he is wholly unaware about any plans by the communist regime to get the Vatican to officially recognize him.
“Bishop Su is the official bishop of Baoding Diocese and I am the coadjutor of the bishop. I have a lot of respect for Bishop Su. When I was released in 2006, I asked provincial government officials about Bishop Su’s whereabouts, but they said they had no idea.”
Su Tianyou says the “Vatican cannot forget the bishops in prison” and that the Holy See “should be able to take the lead in the negotiations and demand that Bishop Su be released.”
While he believes his uncle is no longer with us, Su Tianyou says “we still hope to see him, whether he is alive or dead.”