Chinese priest and website founder dies in suspicious circumstances

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Fr Pedro Yu Heping, also known as Wei Heping, is seen in this undated photo. On 11 November, police informed the family that the priest's body had been found in the Fen River. Photo: CNS/courtesy The Cardinal Kung Foundation
Fr Pedro Yu Heping, also known as Wei Heping, is seen in this undated photo. On 11 November, police informed the family that the priest’s body had been found in the Fen River. Photo: CNS/courtesy The Cardinal Kung Foundation

A Catholic priest who once operated a website that ran afoul of Chinese authorities has died under mysterious circumstances.

On 11 November, police informed the family of Fr Pedro Yu Heping, also known as Wei Heping, that the priest’s body had been found in the Fen River, a tributary of the Yellow River that flows through Shanxi province, reported ucanews.com

Fr Yu’s body was found on 8 November, a day after he was supposed to be arriving in Xingcheng, in northeastern Liaoning province.

Church leaders from different parts of China and faithful who were close to the priest gathered in Taiyuan, Shanxi’s provincial capital, where his body was found, hoping to get more information.

“Two nuns saw Fr Yu off for a bus to the railway station in Taiyuan on 6 November,” said a source, who asked to remain anonymous. “Various church members were still able to talk to him over the phone that day.”

Fr Yu had been expected to appear in Xingcheng on the afternoon of 7 November to join a catechetical meeting, but he did not show up. Earlier in the day, a nun received a text message from Fr Yu’s mobile phone. The message contained only one Chinese character – bie – which could be interpreted to mean “farewell”, the source said.

“No one believed Fr Yu, as a dedicated priest, would commit suicide,” the source told ucanews.com

“But now even a postmortem is not trustworthy.”

Fr Yu, 40, was the first webmaster of Tianzhujiao Zaixian, a popular Catholic web portal established in early 2000.

Because of the time difference between Europe and Asia, he and his team could translate news from the Vatican in a timely manner, leading the unregistered website to become very popular among Chinese Catholics.

However, its popularity drew attention from Chinese authorities, and it was subsequently shut down.

Fr Yu claimed he was no longer involved with the website after it reopened in 2003.

The priest was born in Shanxi and studied at Baoding seminary in Hebei province from 1993-97.

He was ordained a priest of Ningxia diocese in 2004, then furthered his studies at the Pontifical Bolivarian University in Medellin, Colombia, and at the Pontifical University of Salamanca in Spain.

After earning master’s degrees in church social teachings in 2006 and in canon law in 2007, he returned and taught in various seminaries in China.

In recent years, Fr Yu was active in publishing a theological journal and conducting research at several cultural institutes in China. He also brought young Catholics to preach and serve in remote areas.