China consecrates first new bishop in three years

Chinese pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for the General Audience, April 22, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Chinese pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square for the General Audience, April 22, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- In mainland China's first episcopal consecration since 2012, a priest was consecrated a bishop in the cathedral of Anyang on Tuesday. His appointment was agreed upon by both the Vatican and the Chinese government.

Fr. Joseph Zhang Yinlin, 44, was consecrated coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Weihui (Anyang) on Aug. 4 by Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin of Weihui, who is 90. According to UCANews, assisting bishops were Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen, Joseph Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun, and Wang Renlei of Xuzhou. Each of the bishops present are recognized by the Vatican.

According to the official website of the Henan Catholic Church, the ordination Mass was concelebrated by 75 priests and attended by an estimated 1,400 people. A source who attended the Mass told UCANews that the cathedral was under heavy security, with hundreds of police and firemen guarding it.

According to AsiaNews, Bishop Zhang “told the congregation that he was very touched, thanked God for choosing him, a simple and weak servant. He also thanked the ordinary Bishop Zhang for nurturing, guiding him patiently for years, and now presiding at his ordination.”

The episcopal consecration is the first since Pope Francis was elected Bishop of Rome, and the first since Vatican-China talks resumed in June 2014.

The last bishop consecrated in the People's Republic of China was Thaddeus Ma Daqin, in July 2012. Bishop Ma had been part of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association – the government-sanctioned Church – but after his consecration as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai he announced he would leave the association, and he was confined by the government.

The ceremony comes weeks after Beijing beginning to recognize seminary studies, allowing seminarians to continued their education in a state university should they leave.

However, in Zhejiang province churches have been ordered to stop displaying crosses, and a number of churches have been demolished. Seven Christians have also been detained in the province.

The Church in China is often described as divided between an 'official' Church (the Patriotic Association), linked to the government, and an 'underground' Church, persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

But a source in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples told CNA July 27 that “for years, priests of Chinese communities and faithful have been working to overcome the divide between ‘clandestine’ and official Church … the more the ‘Cultural Revolution’ gets farther in time, the fewer the differences between patriotic and underground Church are.”

Bishop Zhang was born in 1971 in Henan province, and has served as vicar general of the Weihui diocese.

He was elected as a bishop candidate April 29, after having been approved by the Vatican. The vote was held by the government-sanctioned bishops' conference, and was heavily controlled by the authorities.

The day prior, the Zhumadian diocese – also located in Henan province – had also elected a bishop candidate, Fr. Cosmos Ji Chengyi. The date of his episcopal consecration has not been announced.

The cathedral of the Diocese of Weihui was moved to Anyang (60 miles north) in 1952, and thus the local Church is also known as the Diocese of Anyang. The diocese has 30 priests, 17 parishes, 120 nuns, and 40,000 members, according to UCANews.

Tags: Church in China, Vatican diplomacy, PROC, People's Republic of China, Diocese of Weihui, Bishop Zhang