The tears of Chinese bishops. A portrait of Msgr. Zhuang, bishop of Shantou
by Padre Pietro

A priest of the official Church, recalls the 88 year old bishop that the Vatican wants to replace with an illegitimate bishop, to please the regime. Mons. Zhuang Jianjian became an underground bishop at the behest of the Vatican in 2006. Card. Zen and Msgr. Zhuang, image of the faithful Church, "which provokes an immense sadness and a sense of impotence". The hopes of card. Parolin to console "the past and present sufferings of Chinese Catholics".


Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Vatican's decision to replace Msgr. Pietro Zhuang Jianjian with another bishop (currently excommunicated), to please the Chinese government, is provoking pain and confusion in China.  In this reflection an official Church priest, Fr. Peter, expresses sorrow at the way this underground Church bishop is being treated, who went underground by Vatican order in 2006. Fr. Peter also recalls the attempts Card. Joseph Zen to communicate with Pope Francis to avoid another "Mindszenty case". Unlike certain images released by some media, the attempt by Card. Zen and the tears of Msgr. Zhuang are viewed as "impotent" and "sad". Greater suffering for priests and more problems of conscience for the faithful in China.

I have no direct impression of the bishop of the diocese of Shantou Msgr. Pietro Zhuang Jianjian. I only know that when I was a seminarian, I liked to listen to Radio Veritas Asia and I heard from Radio Veritas Asia the news of the priestly ordination of Zhuang Jianjian in Shanghai - it was the first time I learned about the priest Zhuang Jianjian of the diocese of Shantou.

Radio Veritas Asia was not the only one to sprea the news of his ordination: the magazine "Catholic Church of China" also published an article that said: "Father Zhuang Jianjian, was born in Jiexi county of the diocese of Shantou, in the province of Guangdong. In his youth he attended the seminaries of Meixian (in Guangdong) and Shanghai. He never changed his mind despite a 10 year interruption during the Cultural Revolution and went on to enter the Seminary of Sheshan (Shanghai) in 1985. Once he had completed his studies, on December 21, 1986, he received priestly ordination in the Basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan, where he also celebrated his first Mass as a priest".

According to the circumstances of the time, I think that the ordination of Fr. Zhuang Jianjian was celebrated by Msgr. Jin Luxian, even if Radio Veritas Asia did not reveal who the bishop who presided over the ceremony was. But I'm certain in affirming that Fr. Zhuang Jianjian had always been a pastor of the official Church. That is until 2006, when Fr. Zhuang Jianjian was nominated by the Pope as bishop of Shantou and received episcopal ordination in secret, and when his name became known to all.

In recent decades, every Pope has hoped to improve relations with mainland China, in particular Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, he has ardently desired that an agreement be reached with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. In October 2017, the Holy See representative Msgr. Claudio Maria Celli twice requested the resignation of Msgr. Zhuang Jianjian. At a meeting in Beijing, a Vatican delegation asked Msgr. Zhuang to step aside to make way for Msgr. Huang Bingzhang, who is an excommunicated bishop. The 88 year old Msgr. Zhuang, on hearing the request, burst into tears, refused to accept and said he preferred to "carry the Cross for disobedience".

According to normal ecclesiastical practice, a bishop should resign to the Pope at the age of 75, but given the special circumstances of the Chinese Church, many bishops were ordained at the age of 75, and some are still responsible for diocesan affairs at the age of over 80. This is due to the fact that, from 1960 to 1980, the Chinese Church never had the opportunity to make priestly and episcopal ordinations.

It is not that Msgr. Zhuang wants to cling to the post of bishop, the point is that he cannot accept leaving the sacred chair to an illegitimate bishop. It is a matter of faith and conscience: it should not be considered a mere question of obedience or disobedience. For this he hoped that Card. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, would be able to express his concern to the Pope. On 10 January 2018, Card. Zen placed an envelope containing Msgr. Zhuang’s letter and another letter on his behalf in the Pope’s hands, on the occasion of the "baci-a-mano" [kissing of the ring or personal greeting – ed]  at the end of the Wednesday general audience.

From the photos taken at that moment, you see the snow-white hair and the curled back of Card. Zen delivering the letters to the Pope: an image that provokes an immense sadness and a sense of impotence. The gesture of desperate struggle and Card. Zen’s courage in attempting to address uncomfortable warning is admirable. His figure is precisely the figure of the faithful Church in China. Also that of Msgr. Zhuang Jianjian: his tears are the tears of faithful priests in China, tears full of mortification and sacrifice.

In an interview published January 31, 2018 in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the Vatican Secretary of State Card. Pietro Parolin spoke of the recent confusion caused by the behaviour of the Holy See, explaining that "the negotiations in progress are moving exactly along this line: constructive openness to dialogue and fidelity to the genuine tradition of the Church". He added hopefully that "the time will come, when the Lord wants, when we will no longer speak of 'legitimate' and 'illegitimate', 'clandestine' and 'official' bishops in the Church in China,  but of an encounter between brothers, learning again the language of collaboration and communion ". Regarding the concern of the faithful that the sufferings inflicted in the past and the present are erased, Card. Parolin – apparently in an attempt to offer some consolation to the people who are living through these sufferings - and said that "the Church will never forget the past and present trials and sufferings of Chinese Catholics. All this is a great treasure for the universal Church ".

I hope that Card. Parolin’s words are sincere and come from the heart. But the important question remains how can the ecclesial authority dry the tears of the faithful and allow their conscience to experience genuine and true peace and consolation?

Fr. Peter

 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

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