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Death of Beijing's 'underground' bishop

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, the unofficial bishop of Beijing - Bishop Matthias Pei Shangde - died at the age of 83.

The elderly bishop died in Shengxing hospital in Zhangjiakou (Hebei province) where he was admitted some months ago with severe kidney trouble.

Since April 2001 he had been under house arrest. Even in hospital he was under close surveillance. Although seriously ill and in need of constant treatment, the Bishop continued his pastoral ministry in the Beijing and Hebei, promoting communion with the universal Church.

The funeral will be held on Wednesday in Bishop Pei's home parish Zhangjiapu (Zhuo Lu district). The Mass will be presided by local priests. The Catholics in the village have prepared a solemn ceremony with songs and music. But the police have ordered a low profile service, for villagers only, no outsiders.

He was ordained in 1948. But in 1950, after China's Communist regime came to power, he was forced to work at Beijing's Zhiyaochang medicine factory. During the Cultural Revolution, like all Catholics loyal to Rome, Pei suffered hardship. After 10 years re-education, he was released in 1980 and returned to Beijing. In 1989 he was secretly ordained Bishop of Beijing. His simple faith and meekness of heart earned him the friendship of many priests of the official Church.