Chinese diocese, vacant since 1962, receives new bishop

.- The new Bishop of Taichow, Antonio Xu Jiwei, was consecrated last Saturday at the age of 75. With joint Church and State approval of his ordination, he fills an office that was vacant for nearly 50 years.

The Holy See's Press Office released a statement on Wednesday recognizing the ordination of Msgr. Xu who had been acting as the diocesan administrator for the Taichow diocese, also known as the Diocese of Linhai. The position had remained unfilled since the death of Bishop John Hou Joshan in 1962.

Bishop Xu's story is a rather turbulent one, according to a brief biography included in the Vatican message announcing his ordination.

Born in 1935, he attended seminaries from 1948 -1958. He was not yet ordained when in 1960 he was condemned to five years in prison. From 1960 until 1985 he was sentenced to forced labor, which included six years as a school teacher.

The Vatican reported that he "remembers that period as a difficult time but also as a time of grace, that reinforced his faith and during which in prayer he experienced that God loves deeply and (that) He is with him every day."

In 1985, he returned to the seminary in Shanghai and was ordained for the Diocese of Ningbo, where he served in a parish until his appointment as the diocesan administrator of Taichow.

His ordination as a bishop last Saturday was presided over by Bishop of Tsingtao, Joseph Li Mingsu, and three other bishops, all of whom are in communion with the Holy See and approved by the Chinese government. According to the Holy See's statement, Bishop Xu is "optimistic" about evangelization efforts and growth in the diocese, which serves 6,000 faithful.

Those bishops unapproved by the Chinese government-sanctioned Church are considered to be members of the "underground" Catholic Church.

One member of the "underground" Church, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, made news when he was released on July 7 after more than a year in prison. On Tuesday, Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, expressed his "great joy" that the bishop had returned to the Diocese of Chengting. Cardinal Dias' short message was published by Fides, the congregation's news agency.

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