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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005, 21:47 GMT 22:47 UK
Underground Chinese bishop dies
A rosary
China's Roman Catholic Church has about 10 million members
Xie Shinguang, a bishop of China's underground Roman Catholic Church who spent 28 years in prison because of his faith, has died.

The bishop of Mingdong was 88 when he succumbed to leukaemia on Thursday.

Vatican Radio said that Monsignor Xie was first arrested in 1955 because of his loyalty and obedience to the Pope.

In China, there is a state-sanctioned church for Roman Catholics, but there is also a bigger, unofficial church that is loyal to the Pope.

Under pressure

Monsignor Xie served four separate prison terms and according to the Vatican was kept under surveillance by the authorities until his death.

The Vatican praised him as a "courageous witness to Christ".

Monsignor Xie was ordained in 1949 and became a bishop 1984.

He is reported to have rejected contact pressure to join the official Chinese Church.

However, as a result he was jailed first in 1955, again from 1958-1980, from 1984-1987 and finally from 1990-1992.

Taiwan issue

China broke off ties with the Holy See in 1951 shortly after the Communist Party took power, forcing congregants to chose between attending state-sanctioned churches, acknowledging Beijing as their ultimate authority, or worshipping in secret.

Monsignor Xie's diocese in Fujian province is reported to have numbered around 75,000 followers.

According to China's authorities the state-sanctioned church has about four million members, while the Vatican says the Roman Catholic Church there has some 10 million worshippers.

Pope John Paul II had dearly hoped to bring China's Catholics under the Vatican's wings, but now that challenge has been taken up by his successor Pope Benedict XVI.

China has said it would like better relations with the Vatican, but insists that first the Holy See must cut its diplomatic links with Taiwan.

The Vatican is one of only 25 states that still have links with Taiwan rather than China, and it is the island's only ally in Europe.

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