Beijing's southern Catholic church hosted a large crowd at mass on Saturday as many people came to mourn for Fu Tieshan, the country's most senior bishop, who died on Friday.
"Many of my fellow Catholics heard of his death last night. I took the earliest bus at 4:50 a.m. to pray for him at the church," said a nun surnamed Li.
"The bishop was a nice and benevolent person. We all loved him and hope his soul will rest in peace," she said.
Fu, chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), acting chairman of the Bishops Conference of Catholic Church of China (BCCCC) and bishop of the Beijing Catholic Diocese, died aged of 76.
Bishops, clergy and Catholics from around China expressed their condolences.
"The bishop was a person of great virtue and prestige. He performed his duties with honor and devoted his life to preaching the gospel in China with a patriotic heart," said CPCA vice chairman Liu Bainian.
Fu was born in Qingyuan County, north China's Hebei Province, in November 1931. He studied philosophy and theology in Beijing's monasteries and became the first ordained and consecrated bishop after China began the reform and opening-up policies.
"He insisted on independence and self-governance for Catholic churches, which greatly boosted the development of Catholicism in China," Liu said.
His association and the BCCCC had informed all dioceses to hold memorial masses and arranged a funeral ceremony on April 27, but Liu said the venue was yet to be decided.
"China lost a good priest. We feel very sad," said Zhan Silu, bishop of the Mingdong diocese, southeast China's coastal province of Fujian.
Zhang Tianlu, a priest from Beijing's southern Catholic church, said priests of the Beijing diocese all had a deep affection for Bishop Fu and and his death was a hard blow to local evangelism.
"But our faith will drive us to transform grief into power, which will enable us to follow in his footsteps," Zhang said.
Fu was also vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, and a Standing Committee member of the eighth and ninth NPCs.
In a statement released after Fu's death on Friday, the Communist Party of China (CPC) called Fu a distinguished patriotic religious leader, a well-known social activist and a close friend of the CPC.