Rome (AsiaNews) – After more than a year of waiting, Fr Joseph Gan Junqiu will be ordained tomorrow morning bishop of Guangzhou, in the southern province of Guangdong. The ceremony will take place in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, the “stone house” located in the centre of the city. The press and the faithful from other dioceses will not be allowed to attend the ceremony “for lack of space,” but some 900 other faithful with passes are expected to be present.
Some local Catholics have visited the church and met the future bishop. “We have known Mgr Gan for quite some time; he is a calm but dynamic figure. He knows people’s problems and gets personally and gladly involved where there is a need or explicit requests,” they told AsiaNews.
The future bishop has an “open mind and heart and is well liked by the people. He does not like compromises but also knows how to find a balance whenever tolerance is difficult to practice. This has an inner cost and entails love for his people and the Church, which is universal. It has been many years since we had a pastor and we are very happy for this grace from God.”
The delay in celebrating the ordination is due to the obstructionism of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), a government agency not recognised by the Holy See, which interferes in the life of the Church trying to impose its own bishops without the consent of the Vatican. It did not for instance appreciate the public statement made by Father Gan who pledged his allegiance to the Pope after his election in late November 2006.
In this particular case the CPCA has tried to impose its own choice for ordaining bishops whom the candidate has found unworthy. Mgr John Fang Xingyao of Linyi will preside over tomorrow’s ceremony along with Mgr Joseph Liao Hongqing of Meizhou and Mgr Paul Su Yongda of Zhanjiang.
Meanwhile on Friday Mgr Francis Lu Shouwang was ordained the new official bishop of Yichang, (Hubei, central China). The new prelate did not publicly state whether his appointment was accepted by the Vatican or not, but AsiaNews sources confirm that he was approved by the Holy See. The bishops who ordained him were Mgr Louis Yu Runshen, official bishop of Hanzhong (Shaanxi); Mgr Zhao Fengchang, bishop of Liao Cheng (Yang Gu, Shandong); and Mgr Su Yongda, bishop of Zhanjiang (Guangdong). No underground bishop was present at the ceremony. Instead there were many officials from the CPCA and the Bishops’ Council, including Wang Zuoan, deputy director of the Religious Affairs Bureau and Zhou Ning, a director of the Central United Front as well as representatives of the Hubei United Front and government leaders from Yichang, Enshizhou and Jingmen.
Right after the mass the new bishop pledged to “guide everyone, priests, nuns, seminarians and faithful, in observing the laws of the state, safeguard national unity and social stability, and make his own contribution to build a harmonious socialist society.”
Many faithful in the underground Church told AsiaNews that these ordinations, whilst they may have been legitimised, they fall short of total obedience to what is laid out in the Pope’s Letter to Chinese Catholics. In it Benedict XVI calls on legitimised bishops to announce and bring “into the public domain at the earliest opportunity” (n.8) their legitimation by the Holy See. Some of the newly-ordained bishops are hiding instead their possible approval. For this reason the Pope calls on legitimised bishops “to provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter” (ibid). According to the underground Church this means they should openly distance themselves from the CPCA, an organisation which the Vatican considers “incompatible with Catholic doctrine” (n. 7).
Lastly, the government has blocked the ordination of the new coadjutor bishop of the autonomous province of Ningxia, in central China. The bishop ordinary, John Liu Jingshan, said that the ceremony for his successor, Fr Joseph Li Jing, “was moved by the government for some reason. Perhaps it will take place on December 8, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception.” This future bishop also received the papal mandate.
The first "independent" ordination was that of Bishop Bernardino Dong Guangqing, which took place in 1958. The director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Wang Zuoan, reiterated the independence of China’s Catholic Church and the self-ordination of its bishops. The goals are sinicisation and subordination to the Communist Party. Is a China-Vatican agreement possible by March?
Government representatives say that the transition from underground to official bishop is the result of negotiations with the Vatican. The ceremony took place with the reading of the "Letter of Approval" by the Council of Bishops and the candidate’s “patriotic” pledge. Mgr Han Zhihai is a "smart steward". On 16 November 16, the ordination of another official bishop is scheduled to take place in Handan.
The faithful of the underground Church are frustrated by the Holy See’s “overlooking” them. There have been no underground bishops, but only apostolic administrators, for almost 20 years. In the eyes of the faithful, this decision is a kind of death sentence for their communities. "Embraces", meetings and souvenir photos with the pope for officials; no meetings or blessings for underground priests, and bishops. The question of registration to the Patriotic Association. An official bishop: "We are all puppets. We just do what they tell us to do". A double defeat for the Vatican and China.