12/11/2008, 00.00
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Mgr Joseph Xu Zhixuan, bishop of Wanzhou, dies

He was one of the bishops invited by the pope to attend the 1998 Synod but were prevented by the government. He passed away on Monday, feast day of the Immaculate Conception. His body is lying in state in the cathedral for the faithful’s last goodbye.

Wanzhou (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Bishop Joseph Xu Zhixuan of Wanzhou (ex Wanxian), a city in Chongqing municipality in central China, died of multiple organ failure last Monday, feast day of the Immaculate Conception, at the age of 92. He was one of two bishops John Paul II had invited to the Synod for Asia in 1998 who could not attend because of obstacles put up by the authorities.

Fr Matthew Ran Qiliang, vicar general of Wanzhou diocese, said that two priests, four nuns and a few laypeople were present at his bedside. The prelate passed away around 1:30 am comforted by the prayers of the faithful despite a last attempt by doctors to save him.

In his final days Bishop Xu was in and out of a coma and was no longer able to recognise those around him, Father Ran said.

On the day the bishop passed away, Auxiliary Bishop Paul He Zeqing, 40, and most of the clergy of the diocese were in Kaixian County, 20 kilometres north of Wanzhou, to consecrate a new church on the Marian Feast Day.

Originally, the ceremony was supposed to take place on 18 October but had to be postponed because of the prelate’s illness.

His body now lies in state inside the Immaculate Conception Cathedral to give the faithful an opportunity to pay their last respects.

Bishop Joseph Xu Zhixuan was born in 1916 in neighbouring Sichuan province and was ordained a priest in 1949.

In 1989, he became coadjutor bishop of Wanxian, when it was still part of Sichuan Province before the creation of Chongqing municipality in 1997.

Bishop Xu was keen on priest training since he had first taught at the regional seminary in Sichuan, and then served as its administrator.

The prelate was also passionate for pastoral work and persisted in serving the people despite his old age.

In 1998, the Chinese government denied him and then Wanzhou Bishop Matthew Duan an exit visa to attend the Synod for Asia. At the time Xu was the diocese’s coadjutor bishop.

Both prelates had been invited by Pope John Paul II to attend the meeting and to underscore their forced absence the Vatican set aside two seats that remained unoccupied throughout the Synod assembly.

The diocese of Wanzhou covers Wanzhou District and eight counties in a mountainous area.

Local Catholic communities are estimated to have some 60,000 members, scattered along the Yangtze River.

Pastoral care is now in the hands of the coadjutor bishop and 11 diocesan priests.

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