A SICK Jesuit priest has been freed by the Chinese after an incarceration which lasted for more than 30 years - probably the longest-serving Prisoner of Conscience in the people's republic.

His offence: he held true to Rome and to his faithfulness to the Pope.

Freedom for 74-year-old Shanghai priest Fr Gabriel Chen Tianxiang came in Oct last year, but it was confirmed only late last month by the Pontificial Institute for Foreign Missions in Rome.

Fr Gabriel was first arrested in July 1953 along with another priest, Zhu Shude, but not sentenced until 1960, when he was given 15 years.
 
He served part of it at the Sulphate Factory (a prison factory) of Nanchang, the capital of Jiangi Province, and was later transferred to a labour camp where he worked as a technician, according to reports.

The crackdown followed the persistent refusal of both priests, and others, to co-operate with the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), and their continued loyalty to the Vatican.

Fr Gabriel was allowed to return to Shanghai in late 1979, to be re-arrested in November 1981.

He was finally tried in the spring of 1983 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment -reportedly because he had baptised Communist cadres in the place where he had previously been detained, and because he again began saying Mass in Shanghai.

According to a report compiled by the Puebla Institute in Washington D.C. last June, Fr Gabriel, who was detained in Prison Number 4, near Nanchang, suffered from coronary heart disease and chronic bronchitis.

A Hong Kong source said that Fr Gabriel is believed to be the last Jesuit to have been held, although several Jesuit colleagues, released earlier, are still under surveillance. (Universe).
 
The Catholic News, February 18, 1990, page 12

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