February 23, 2006

China detains two underground Catholic priests: group

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police detained two underground
Roman Catholic priests this week and has held a 70-year-old
bishop for three months, the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung
Foundation said.

Word of the February 17 detentions of Lu Genjun, 44, and
Guo Yanli, 39, while waiting for a friend at a train station in
Baoding in northern Hebei province, came ahead of a visit to
the United States by President Hu Jintao, expected in April.

It is unclear why the pair were taken into custody. Lu was
being held at an undisclosed location, while Guo was sent to a
detention center in Xushui county, the foundation said in a
statement seen on Friday.

Beijing has had no ties with the Vatican since 1951 and
insists relations cannot be resumed unless the Holy See severs
links with self-ruled Taiwan, which China has claimed as its
own since their split at the end of their civil war in 1949.

China says its Catholics must belong to a state-backed
church that does not recognize the Pope's authority. The United
States has often criticized China for its intolerance of

Lu spent three years in a labor camp until 2004 and it was
the fifth time he had been detained. Guo had never been

Bishop Jia Zhiguo, 70, who takes care of about 100
handicapped orphans in his home, had been in detention since
November 8, the foundation said without giving a reason.

Jia spent about 20 years in prison and was under
intermittent police surveillance when not in prison, the
foundation said. It was the eighth time he had been detained
since 2004.

Police were unavailable for immediate comment.

Hong Kong's Bishop Joseph Zen, named a cardinal by the
Pope, vowed on Thursday to stick to his outspoken ways and said
he did not see China allowing religious freedom anytime soon.

Pope Benedict's top diplomat has said the Holy See has
always been ready to switch diplomatic relations to Beijing
from Taipei but that China must respect religious freedom and
treat the Vatican fairly.

The Vatican estimates it has 8 million followers in China,
compared with about 5 million who follow the state-backed