Hong Kong — Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian, 94, a member of the so-called underground Catholic church who has not been seen since his arrest in 2001, has died, a relative said.
Born in Hebei province, Shi was arrested April 13, 2001, Good Friday, at his niece's home in Beijing. He was held without charge in a secret location.
"We were informed by Baoding city government officials on Friday morning, but they did not say when he died exactly or the cause of his death," Shi Chunyan, the bishop's great-niece, told the Asian Catholic news portal ucanews.com on Saturday.
"We are now waiting for the prelate, whether it be his body or ashes, to be returned to Shizhuang, our hometown, before we decide what to do next," she said.
"My parents and the bishop's other siblings are particularly sad. They had been unsuccessfully trying to discover his whereabouts for many years. Now the answer to their questions is that he is dead," she added.
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It was unclear whether authorities would return the late prelate's body to his family.
Shi was born in 1921 and ordained to the priesthood in 1947. He first was arrested in 1954 and experienced other periods of imprisonment between 1957 and 1980. He spent much of his detention performing hard labor, first at a labor camp in Heilongjiang province, then in coal mines in Shanxi province, ucanews.com reported.
After returning to Hebei, he was arrested and imprisoned briefly again in 1981 for practicing his ministry.
He was secretly ordained auxiliary bishop of Yixian in 1982 and became the ordinary in 1995 after his predecessor, Bishop Liu Guandong, retired.
In 1989, Shi was arrested again and later released in 1993 after concerns about his detention were raised internationally. He was arrested for the final time in 2001.
With Shi's death, Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding is the only remaining bishop affiliated with the underground Catholic church -- whose church leaders refuse to register with the government -- still being secretly held. He was arrested in 1997.