Underground church leader dies and is quickly cremated in China
Bishop Han Dingxiang, a leader of the underground Roman Catholic Church in China and Bishop of the Diocese of Yong Nian in Hebei Province, died at 11 pm (Beijing time) on September 9 after almost 8 years imprisonment. With the exception of a few of his very close relatives who were summoned by Chinese authorities to his bedside, none of his priests, family, parishioners, or supporters were aware of an illness or of any other cause leading to his death, nor were they aware that he was dying in a hospital.

During his episcopacy, Han had been arrested 11 times. His last arrest was on November 20, 1999 while conducting a religious retreat. After approximately four years of detentions in various locations, he was moved to an apartment on the 4th floor of a police family unit where he stayed for another two years. On September 23, 2005, Han was secretly moved to an unknown location and disappeared until his death. He spent approximately a total of 35 years of his life either in the labor camp, or in a prison, or in house arrest.

The bishop was cremated and his ashes were buried in a public cemetery--all within 6 hours of his death. Consequently, with the exception of a few relatives, the body of Bishop Han was not viewed by the public or by any other faithful. There were no priests or other faithful present during his burial. He was 71 years old. His last words before he drifted into a coma were to ask his congregation to recite more rosaries, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation, a U.S.-based advocacy group on behalf of so-called underground Catholics in China. (Beijing authorities only formally recognize the "Patriotic" Catholic Church, which does not aknowledge allegiance to Rome.)

Han was born on May 17, 1937, sent to a labor camp by Chinese authority 1960 - 1979, became a high-school teacher from 1979 to 1982, and operated a medical clinic between 1982 - 1986 while he was a seminarian. He was ordained a priest November 21, 1986, and then ordained a bishop December 19, 1989.

Joseph Kung, the President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, said: "What was the Chinese government afraid of to cremate Bishop Han only 6 hours after his death and at such an early hour at five o'clock in the morning? Why were the priests of his diocese not allowed to bless his remains and, together with his faithful, to pray for this heroic shepherd, and to view his body? This is not only inhuman, and atrocious, but also suspicious. I urge the Vatican to open an official inquest for the cause of the death of Bishop Han."

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