(Corr) China denies entry to Italian priest despite issuing visa

Tuesday, Jul 26,2011, 5:49:45 PM

Text of report by Danny Mok headlined "Border guards turn away activist priest at Lo Wu" published by Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post website on 26 July Outspoken activist priest Father Franco Mella was denied entry to the mainland last week in what he believed was a show of Beijing's displeasure in the row over China's ordination of bishops. Mella said he was stopped while trying to enter the mainland through Lo Wu checkpoint on 19 July. He was on his way to Henan province with a visa he had obtained in June. "They didn't say anything," he said. "A woman took me into a room and let me watch TV for a while. She was apologetic but said I couldn't enter at the moment. Later three men appeared and said my visa had been cancelled." The border staff said they had no information when Mella asked what had happened. He was escorted back to the Hong Kong side of the checkpoint. Mella, 62, an Italian passport holder, said he had planned to visit a church in Kaifeng, Henan, before taking some Catholics from Hong Kong there as part of a leisure trip. His visa is visa was endorsed on 27 June, allowing him to enter the mainland twice in six months. He had had no problems on his previous visit to Beijing from 5 to 10 July. The Milan-born priest has been an active campaigner for the underprivileged in Hong Kong since coming here in 1974. He was especially known for helping boat families in the former Yau Ma Tei typhoon shelter in the 1980s, and as a non-stop campaigner for right of abode for cross-border families. He said he had never had trouble previously applying for visas or entering a country where he had lived for 20 years in various cities, building schools for deaf and dumb children. He believed the denial was a reaction to the Vatican's opposition to China's recent unauthorised ordinations of bishops on the mainland and the ensuing excommunication of two newly ordained bishops. He said it might also be related to two demonstrations he had participated in at the central government's liaison office. The protests, on 29 June and 12 July, were against recent ordinations in Shantou in Guangdong province, Leshan in Sichuan province and Chengde in Hebei province. They also called for greater religious freedom on the mainland and a halt to the arrests of believers. The earlier protest was also joined, for the first time, by Cardinal Joseph Zen who called the row between China and the Vatican a war. Mella said two other Hong Kong-based foreign priests, who had not joined the demonstration, were also turned away by mainland officials. They did not want their names made public. "We are not high-ranking priests in the church," said Mella. "The church's opposition to the ordinations had not much to do with us." He said he would apply for another visa in September, when he plans to lead a group of Catholics from Italy on a tour to mainland. "Of course I'm not happy, but I'm still hopeful. I believe what happened this time was just temporary." Source: South China Morning Post website, Hong Kong, in English 26 Jul 11

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