Baoding (AsiaNews) - Mgr Francis An Shuxin, former underground auxiliary bishop of Baoding, was installed as bishop ordinary of the official Church in the diocese of Baoding (Hebei), in a ceremony held today in the Cathedral. The underground bishop of which Mgr. An was auxiliary Mgr. James Su Zhimin, has been imprisoned in an unknown location since 1997.
The liturgy was presided by Mgr. An and officiated by two other bishops: Mgr. Liu Jing, bishop emeritus of Tangshan, and Mgr. Fang Jianping, current bishop of Tangshan. The ceremony was attended by 24 priests and 300 Catholics.
The diocese of Baoding, one of the largest and with a strong presence of underground Catholics, has at least 50 thousand Catholics. Priests, official and underground, number 120. According to AsiaNews sources, the reduced presence at the ceremony is due to the choice of Mgr. An, made a year ago, to emerge from the underground Church and join the official church, after 10 years in prison (see AsiaNews.it, 29/10/2009 In Hebei, underground bishop joins Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, 04/11 / 2009 The choice of Bishop. Shuxin, "a disaster for the diocese of Baoding" 11/11/2009 Underground bishop: I joined the Patriotic Association for the good of the Church).
Local sources told AsiaNews that the decision for the installation ceremony was made by the government almost a week ago. Bishop An was reluctant because he still considers himself the bishop coadjutor of Mgr. Su Zhimin, who has been in prison for more than 13 years. The government insisted, however, and had even decided to entrust the liturgy to Mgr. Ma Yinglin, the illegitimate bishop' of Kunming, but then accepted the presence of only two bishops from Tangshan.
Before the mass, the letter of appointment of Mgr. An by the council of Chinese bishops and by the Patriotic Association was read publicly. These two organizations support the independence of the Church (from the Holy See) and are considered "incompatible with Catholic doctrine" by Benedict XVI.
After his appointment was read, Mgr. An received a mitre and pastoral staff. The Mass lasted about 90 minutes. Throughout the Mass, neither during prayers, nor in ohter moments, was the imprisoned Mgr. Su Zhimin mentioned.
Mgr. An’s decision to leave the underground church a year ago has created a lot of tensions and divisions among underground Catholics. Some priests - about 15 - have decided to follow him and declare themselves official; others - nearly 100 – instead to remain in the underground Church. Card. Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State at the time wrote a letter to all priests of Baoding asking them to remain united.
(With the collaboration of Zhen Yuan)