.- Underground Catholic Bishop Leon Yao Liang died on Dec. 30, 2009 at the age of 87. An advocacy group for Chinese Catholics says authorities have tightly controlled news of his death and also reports that three underground priests have gone missing.
Bishop Yao, the auxiliary bishop of Xiwanzi in Hebei Province, was born in 1923 and ordained a priest in 1946, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reports. He served as an assistant pastor at various churches but was restricted to the region of Xiwanzi by the Communist regime in the early 1950s.
At the time he earned his livelihood from vegetable farming and from selling firewood.
He was forced to enter a labor camp in 1956 and in 1958 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for being in communion with the Pope and the universal Catholic Church.
He was released in 1984 after 28 years in labor camps and prison.
Bishop Yao was ordained to the episcopacy on Feb. 19, 2002 under a mandate from the Vatican.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation says it has not learned of the bishopsâ funeral arrangements because news of his death âappears to have been tightly controlled by the Chinese authority.â
The Foundation also reports that three underground Catholic priests from Xuanhua in Hebei Province disappeared in June 2009. Fathers Zhang Cunhui, 46, Zhang Zhanglin, 46, and Liu, 32, are believed by local Catholics to have been kidnapped by government agents and detained at an unknown location.
The underground bishop of Xuanhua, Bishop Zhao Kexun, is under a government arrest warrant and is in hiding.
Other priests in China are under intense pressure to join the countryâs Catholic Patriotic Association, a government-sponsored religious organization independent from the Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI has made unity within the Catholic Church in China a key priority of his papacy.