Rome (AsiaNews) While the government has not let 4 Chinese bishops take part in the Synod on the Eucharist, another bishop of the official Church has been ordained with the tacit approval of the Vatican and Beijing, prominent Church figures within China have told AsiaNews.
Yesterday, Monsignor Paul He Zeqing was ordained auxiliary bishop of Wanxian (Sichuan, Central China), at a ceremony attended by 81 priests and more than 1000 members of the faithful. Prior to the ceremony, the diocese's ordinary, Monsignor Joseph Xu Zhixuan, had informed priests and nuns that the ordination would be taking place with the approval of the Holy See. Monsignor He is the third bishop to have been ordained this year in what appears to be a policy accepted by China and the Vatican: the candidate is designated by the Holy See and the government endorses the decision. Prior to Bishop He, there had been the episcopal ordinations of Bishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi of Shanghai and Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan of Xian.
According to AsiaNews sources, the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics is not at all satisfied with this policy, seeing it as a threat to its power over the Church. For the Patriotic Association, bishops must be elected by diocese representatives and need no approval from the pope. The Patriotic Association's aim is to establish a national Church which is autonomous from Rome.
In past weeks, Liu Bainian, former Secretary General and current Vice-President of the Patriotic Association went to Sichuan to make bishops and clergy desist from being "too obedient" to the pontiff, reaffirming the method of "democratic election" as the instrument for the designation of candidates to the episcopate. Clergy and bishops in the area did not however pay heed to the pressure placed on them by Liu. It is ever clearer in the official Church that episcopal ordinations, being a sacrament, are part of a religious and spiritual element that cannot be subjugated to political power or to the Patriotic Association.
The new auxiliary bishop of Wanxian, Monsignor Paul He Zeqing, age 37, is perhaps the youngest bishop of the official Church. His young age makes him no less resolute, however. "I wish to live my spiritual life with greater depth," he told AsiaNews, "and I will endure any hardship for the Church, even if I am young."
Bishop He comes from a family of farmers and entered the seminary of Chengdu (Sichuan) in 1989, not long after the resumption of Church activities following the violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
The Wanxian (Wanzhou) diocese became famous worldwide in 1998 when Pope John Paul II had invited its two bishops, ordinary Matthias Duan Yinmin (Editor's note: the last bishop named by Pius XII in 1949, right after Mao's rise to power) and auxiliary Joseph Xu Zhixuan, to take part in the Synod on Asia. However, the government did not give its permission to the two bishops to leave the country.
After Bishop Duan's death in January 2001, Bishop Xu, also very old, became the diocese's ordinary.
To facilitate in fact the participation of the elderly and sick Bishop Xu, the ordination ceremony did not take place in the cathedral, but in a parish of Longbao, about a half-hour from Wanxian.
Bishop He is keeping track of the Synod's proceedings and regrets that the Chinese bishops were not able to take part in it: "I am praying for them," he told AsiaNews¸ "I'm praying for this Synod on the Eucharist."
Wanxian is famous also for another reason: part of the diocese is about to be submerged by the waters of the Yang Tze (Blue River), to make room for the basin of the great Three Gorges Dam. At least 5 churches have already been submerged. After some hesitation, the government allowed the churches to be rebuilt further up the valley. "So far," the new Bishop said, "we have been able to rebuild 4 churches; work for the construction of a fifth got recently underway. We hope to finish it soon."