On Monday, Chinese police arrested Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, the underground bishop of Zhengding in the Chinese province of Hebei.

The arrest was timed to coincide with Monday’s convening at the Vatican of the Catholic Church’s Plenary Commission on the Church in China.

The Catholic news service Asianews reported March 31 that Bishop Jia, 74, “suffers from various disturbances because of past imprisonments and his age.”

Asianews indicated that Bishop Jia — who as a bishop of China’s “underground” Church recognizes the authority of Pope Benedict XVI — was arrested to prevent him from meeting with a bishop of the officially recognized Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not recognize Rome’s authority.

Reported Asianews, “For weeks, [Bishop Jia] had been under surveillance 24 hours a day, to prevent him from meeting with the official bishop, with whom he had reconciled on instructions from the Vatican.”

Bishop Jia’s arrest, and the negative implications it has for Vatican-Chinese relations, was noted in a Vatican communiqué issued today at the conclusion of the meeting of the Commission on the Church in China.

“The participants, drawing also on their own sometimes-harsh experiences, highlighted complex problems of the current ecclesial situation in China, problems deriving not just from internal difficulties of the Church, but also from the uneasy relations with the civil authorities,” the communiqué stated. “In this context, news of the re-arrest of Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding was greeted with profound anguish.”

Added the communiqué, “Situations of this kind create obstacles to that constructive dialogue with the competent authorities which, as is known, the Holy Father in his above-mentioned Letter expressed the hope might be pursued. This is not, unfortunately, an isolated case. Other ecclesiastics are also deprived of their freedom and subject to undue pressures and limitations in their pastoral activities. To all of them the participants wish to send assurances of fraternal closeness and constant prayers in this time of Lent, illuminated by the Paschal Mystery.”