Catholics mourning after 'pillar of spiritual strength' dies of cancer
Ambrose Leung and Chan Siu-sin
Xian Bishop Anthony Li Duan died after a battle with cancer yesterday morning. He was 79.
About 20 priests and nuns held a Mass at his deathbed hours before Bishop Li passed away in the Shaanxi Provincial Cancer Hospital at 3am.
The Holy See said it mourned 'the loss of a very great friend'. A Vatican official yesterday praised Bishop Li as a 'stabilising force' in the church who was loved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
'He was a very holy man, a man of God and a pillar of spiritual strength. He is praying for the church from where he is now, as a strong source of spiritual strength from heaven.'
Bishop Li, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in January 2004, was a staunch defender of the church on the mainland and was supported by both the underground and official churches.
His body has been moved to the St Francis Cathedral in Xian, where Masses will be offered until Sunday, when it will be moved to a church in Lintong county in preparation for burial on Wednesday.
Catholic representatives from China are expected to attend the Requiem Mass held by Bishop Li's successor, Bishop Dang Mingyan, tomorrow.
The Vatican official said the Holy See wanted to send a representative to the funeral to express its condolences, but since Beijing was unlikely to allow this, the message could be sent by a third party.
Anthony Lam Sui-ki, a religious affairs analyst at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, said Beijing would probably allow individual foreign bishops or priests to attend in a private capacity.
'But how big the effect [on Sino-Vatican ties will be] is hard to tell,' Mr Lam said.
Days before his death, Bishop Li announced through other clergy the elevation of priest Wu Qinjing as bishop of Zhouzhi diocese in Shaanxi, according to a mainland Catholic source.
The mainland source said the Shaanxi authorities did not recognise Bishop Wu's appointment. The Vatican official said it would only be a matter of time before Beijing approved.