Shanghai (AsiaNews) - As preparations for Mgr Joseph Fan Zhongliang's funeral tomorrow continue, more and more people are expressing their sympathy for the late underground bishop of Shanghai, who died on Sunday after spending almost 30 years in prison, forced labour camps or under house arrest.
Card John Tong Hon is one of them. In a just released statement of condolences, the bishop of Hong Kong describes the Jesuit bishop as "an outstanding pastor" who had "faith in God through his whole life," faithfully serving the Church for more than 70 years.
In his message, Card Tong offered his sincere condolences to the Catholics of the Diocese of Shanghai and said that he was praying that they would continue to follow the Lord's will, promote Church unity and bear witness to God's love and for his greater glory.
The cardinal also said the he was praying to Our Lady of Sheshan - whose shrine is near Shanghai - to protect all Shanghai Catholics.
Mgr Fan's funeral is scheduled for tomorrow at 10 am at the funeral home where his body has been lying in state since his death last Sunday.
For now, it is rumoured that former Vicar General Fr Zhu Yude will lead the funeral service. However, Catholics from both the official and underground Churches are hoping that Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin will be able to participate.
With Mgr Fan's death, which follows that of official Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian a year ago, Mgr Ma is Shanghai's last bishop.
After his episcopal ordination in July 2012, Bishop Ma quit the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a Communist party-controlled organisation that wants a Church independent of Rome. As a result of this, he was placed under house arrest.
According to a Shanghai blogger, during the two-day memorial service approved by the government, nearly 20 priests from the official Church and a number of underground priests co-celebrated Mass before Mgr Fan's body. The show of unity moved to tears many older Catholics.
During the service, many priests also read a prayer written by Mgr Ma. However, the prelate's blog was blocked on Monday morning, just hours after Mgr Fan's death.
Yet, some messages got through to him. Some said that they hoped to see him at the funeral. Others said they would like to see priests from the two communities celebrate the Eucharist together.