A Catholic bishop of the Chinese Underground Church who was last seen at the time of his arrest 14 years ago has died at the age of 94, a great niece of his says.
Local government officials in Baoding notified the relatives of Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian about his death on January 30, his 42-year-old great-niece Shi Chunyan told ucanews.com.
"We were informed by Baoding city government officials on Friday morning but they did not say when he died exactly or the cause of his death," the bishop's great-niece said in an interview.
Shi had been arrested in April 2001 at his niece's house in Beijing and was held at a secret location without being charged of any crime, his great-niece said.
"My parents and the bishop's other siblings are particularly sad. They had been unsuccessfully trying to discover his whereabouts for many years," she continued. "Now the answer to their questions is that he is dead."
She also expressed uncertainty as to whether her great-uncle's incarcerators would return the prelate's body to the family.
"We are now waiting for the prelate, whether it be his body or ashes, to be returned to Shizhuang, our hometown, before we decide what to do next," great-niece Shi said.
Catholics in China are mourning Shi's death after news of it spread on social media.
Feedback on the microblogging site Weibo, the equivalent of Twitter, had some users saying the underground church has a "martyr in the Church."
Baoding Bishop James Su Zhimin remains the underground church's last remaining prelate held in secret detention. The bishop has been held since his arrest in October 1997.
Ordained a priest in 1947, Bishop Shi was first arrested in 1954 before being imprisoned for long periods intermittently between 1957 and 1980, spending time in hard labor camps.
He was ordered arrested again in 1981 for practicing his ministry.
Church authorities ordained him as auxiliary bishop of Yixian in 1982, and he became a full bishop in 1995 when his predecessor retired.