His faithful describe him as the image of the "Good Shepherd". He was ordained underground bishop in 1981. In 2004 he was recognized by the government, but managed to decline joining the Patriotic Association. Under his leadership, the diocese has grown. To date there are 31 priests, 120 nuns, 50 thousand faithful. The Church is involved in evangelization and in providing medical care to the population.
Anyang (AsiaNews) - The diocese of Anyang (Weihui, Henan), has announced the death of its bishop, Msgr. Thomas Zhang Huaixin, yesterday at 12:10. The Bishop was 91 years of age.
About a year ago, on August 4, he ordained Msgr. Giuseppe Zhang Yinlin coadjutor bishop, who will now follow the late prelate as pastor of the diocese.
Believers describe Msgr. Thomas Zhang as a much loved pastor, who managed to keep the faith and fidelity to the Pope, while trying to deal with the government, leaving no room for the machinations of the Patriotic Association.
Under his leadership, the diocese has grown both in ordained (31 priests and 120 nuns) and in evangelization. The diocese of 50 thousand faithful provides medical care to the population, especially ophthalmic with at least 11 clinics, a hospital, a kindergarten. There is also a very strong commitment in catechesis, with a catechetical center and one for spiritual retreats.
Long queues of worshipers, priests and nuns have been forming at the cathedral since yesterday to honor the late bishop and participate in the Masses. The funeral will be held on May 14 at 8.30. Many people describe the late bishop as a "good shepherd". On the internet, the comments speak of his "deep faith".
Even the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops issued a message of condolence today to participate in mourning for the death of Msgr. Zhang Huaixin and praise his faith and his "support for the leadership of the communist authorities". The message also expresses the hope that Msgr. Zhang Yinlin will lead the diocese so it may continue to contribute to the good of society.
Msgr. Thomas Zhang was born into a devout Catholic family on May 23, 1925. In 1934 he entered the minor seminary of Weihui and then the major seminary in Kaifeng. He was ordained a priest in 1950. From 1958 to 1966 he was sentenced to the forced labor camps having been judged to be "right-wing" in one of the many purges of the Maoist period.
Later, during the Cultural Revolution, he returned home where he worked as a farmer. He only returned to Anyang on 1981. On 19 October 1981 he was ordained a bishop (underground) by Msgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, bishop of Zhengding.
In 2004, he was recognized by the government, but before being recognized, he discussed the choice with his faithful and priests, and wanted to make it clear that despite having a relationship with the government, he did not subscribe to the principles of independence (from the Holy See ) promoted by the Patriotic Association.
A long time observer of the Church in China, who had contact with Msgr. Thomas Zhang remembers him thus: "He was a faith filled and pragmatic bishop: he always tried to do good for his community of faithful. He never got embroiled in theoretical questions about the diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican, but always looked exclusively to evangelization. He was also a great supporter of new charisms, helping the birth of Christian art in China".
The diocese of Anyang (Weihui) had been entrusted to the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) since 1882. The last PIME bishop to lead the diocese was Msgr. Mario Civelli exiled with the advent of Mao Zedong. The last PIME missionary to leave the diocese was the brother Raffaele Comotti, who was expelled in June 1954 after being subjected to a lengthy interrogation lasting days.