Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, a bishop of Shanghai in the People’s Republic of China who spent decades under arrest for his faith, died March 16 at the age of 97.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation said March 16 that the bishop died “surrounded by some of his faithful parishioners.”
“He died at his home still under house arrest, a sentence that entailed strict surveillance by the government for most of the last two decades,” said the Stamford, Conn.-based foundation dedicated to supporting the Church in China.
In China, the Church is split between an “underground” Church loyal to Rome, and bishops and clergy who are part of the Chinese government’s Catholic Patriotic Association, which refuses to acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
Bishop Fan died after several days of a high fever. An underground priest immediately said a Mass for the repose of the bishop’s soul. Soon afterward, government officials arrived to transfer his body to a funeral home.
Bishop Fan was born in 1918, and baptized in 1932. He joined the Jesuits in 1938 and was ordained a priest in 1951 – two years after mainland China was seized by communist forces.
On Sept. 8, 1955 he was arrested by the Chinese government, spending more than 30 years in jail and forced labor.
He was secretly ordained as coadjutor bishop of Shanghai Feb. 27, 1985, at a time when the city’s bishop, Ignatius Kung, was still in jail.
Bl. John Paul II named Bishop Fan as the legitimate Bishop of Shanghai in March 2000, upon the death of Cardinal Kung.
However, Chinese officials placed him under arrest immediately. He spent the rest of his life as a prisoner, and the government never recognized him as bishop.
More than 2,000 underground Catholics are expected to attend Bishop Fan’s funeral. The Chinese government has denied a request to hold the Mass at Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral.
Another Shanghai bishop loyal to Rome is also in government custody.
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was consecrated a bishop July 7, 2012. At his ordination he announced that he would leave his position with the Catholic Patriotic Association to “devote every effort to episcopal ministry.”
His announcement, made in the presence of several state officials, was seen as a rebuke to the government; many of the congregation applauded the bishop.
Bishop Ma has not been seen in public since his ordination, and is under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary. The Cardinal Kung Foundation said the Chinese government and the Catholic Patriotic Association attempted to rescind his ordination.
In December 2013 the BBC reported he is now being sent to regular political lessons.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation appealed to the Chinese government for Bishop Ma’s immediate release.
“By reinstating Bishop Ma to his rightful office, China will be taking an important step forward in honoring religious freedom, a right that is guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution,” the foundation said. “We urge others to raise their voices and join in this appeal--both organizations advocating for religious freedom and human rights in China, and national governments where freedom of religious belief is central to their current practices or founding tenets.”