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OBIT-FU Apr-20-2007 (440 words) With photo. xxxi

Beijing Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, 75, dies

By Catholic News Service

BEIJING (CNS) -- Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan of Beijing, the top leader of the registered Catholic Church community in China, died April 20 after a long battle with cancer.

His death was announced in Beijing by the Xinhua news agency.

Bishop Fu, 75, had led the diocese covering the Chinese capital since 1979. At the time of his death, he served as chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and acting president of the government-recognized Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the patriotic association, told UCA News, an Asian church news agency, April 19 that Bishop Fu wanted to "see his priests, whom he hasn't met for a long time" because of his long illness.

Bishop Fu's last public appearance was at the March 4 preparatory meeting for the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, of which he has been a vice chairman since 2003. People holding positions of vice chairman or higher are ranked as state leaders.

The bishop was absent from the March 5-16 annual session.

Father Peter Zhao Jianmin, one of Bishop Fu's two assistants, told UCA News April 20 that Bishop Fu had received the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

Father Matthew Zhen Xuebin, the bishop's other assistant and rector of the Beijing seminary, said the diocese had asked all Catholics to pray for the bishop after he became seriously ill.

On the matter of succession, the two priests said the diocese has not discussed the matter.

Liu said the Beijing Diocese had not held any election for a bishop candidate, because it required the consent of the local government.

He said the matter of who will succeed Bishop Fu as chairman of the patriotic association will be discussed in a committee meeting.

Bishop Fu, born in 1931, was ordained a priest in 1956. He was ordained a bishop in 1979 at age 48. He was the first bishop to be "self-elected and self-ordained" by the Chinese church, without papal approval, after China adopted economic reforms and an open-door policy in 1978.

In March, a church source in Beijing said Bishop Fu was not recognized as a bishop by the Holy See, but the source believed that "in his mind" the bishop was in communion with the pope. The source, who described the bishop as "a very kind person," emphasized that the situation in Beijing was complicated, and people did what they could to work within the system.

Father Zhao said the Beijing Diocese currently has about 50 priests and 50,000 Catholics.


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