04/27/2009, 00.00
CHINA

Funeral Mass for Fr. Tan Tiande, who "blesses us Chinese Catholics"

Paul Ma
The funeral was held in the cathedral of Guangzhou, where the priest worked after his liberation following 30 years of forced labor. Testimonies about his active presence with the catechumens.

Guangzhou (AsiaNews) - The Catholics of Guangzhou today said their last goodbye to Fr. Francis Tan Tiande, who died last April 23 at the age of 93. He spent almost 30 years of his life in a prison camp in Heilongjiang. But the fame of his witness and his apostolic work is far from dead.

This morning at 7:30 (local time), the solemn funeral was held in the cathedral of Guangzhou, where the priest had worked for decades, after being set free. The last goodbyes were said in front of his coffin at the funeral home, at 10:30. Meanwhile, testimonies are coming from all over the world about the way in which Fr. Tan helped many to discover the beauty of Christianity, and then accompanied them to baptism. For many new faithful in the diocese of Guangzhou, the life of Fr. Tan, and even his imprisonment, are "a blessing for us Catholic Chinese."

Teresa, a young Catholic, was baptized in 2003. She arrived at the faith after a long journey of searching. Unlike the Catholics older than her, she has not experienced persecution, but she knows well what happened in the past, and has great respect for the confessors of the faith. Among these, Fr. Tan Tiande has a special place. In addition to meeting with him each week, Teresa also read his famous book of brief but intense recollections of his thirty years in prison. Like many other Catholics from Guangzhou, she has enormous respect for him. She considers him a priest of strong faith, who truly loved God and men.

Before receiving Baptism, Teresa went a number of times to the Mass celebrated by Fr. Tan, and was struck by his preaching, an unvarnished call to conversion.

Shortly after being set free, Fr. Tan returned to his service at the cathedral, where for years he was involved in teaching the catechumens. He stopped teaching catechesis only in the past few years, as he was growing weaker. Every Sunday, he made himself useful by greeting the many people attending Mass, talking with them, encouraging them, blessing the religious objects they had bought.

Shortly before he died, Teresa went to visit Fr. Tan in the hospital. In his room were the bishop, priests, sisters, and many others who had come to say goodbye to the elderly priest. Teresa stopped at the entrance to watch, deeply moved. Fr. Tan held his arm up in the air, constantly blessing everyone. "That gesture," Teresa says, "was his goodbye to us of the Church of Guangzhou. It was a blessing to us Catholic Chinese, so that, like him, we may remain faithful to God until the end."

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