The 92-year-old priest spent 24 years in camps, persecuted for his loyalty to the pope. The government had chosen as bishop Ma Yinglin. Excommunicated in 2006, the latter was rejected by the faithful for not being in communion with the pope.
Kunming (AsiaNews) – Kunming Catholics are preparing for the funeral of Fr Lawrence Zhang Wenchang, who died in his hometown in Shilin Yi Autonomous County on Sunday at the age of 92 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in October. The funeral service is planned for this Sunday. Since 2000, he had been apostolic administrator in three ecclesiastic territories in southern Yunan province: Kunming, Dali and Zhaotong.
In 2006, Chinese authorities unlawfully ordained Fr Ma Yinglin
as bishop of the area. Since then, he has been excommunicated, which did not prevent him from becoming president of the Chinese Bishops’ council, a body not recognised by the Holy See.
Despite great support from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Ma Yinglin has little following among Kunming Catholics. Whenever he appears in public, they leave, refusing to receive the sacraments from him.
Fr Zhang belonged instead to the underground community. In the past few years, he was kept under close police surveillance leading the typical life of the martyrs under Communist rule.
Born in 1920, he had entered the diocesan minor seminary at the age of 12. After he graduated from Kunming major seminary, he was ordained in 1946 by Archbishop Alexandre Derouineau who was expelled in 1952, another victim of Maoism.
After serving at the cathedral for a few years, Fr Zhang was forced to become a chicken and rabbit breeder in 1953 during a period of political turmoil.
He was arrested in 1958 and imprisoned for counter-revolutionary crimes. He was later sent to reform-through-labour camp where he stayed between 1962 and 1982. In 1987, he was rehabilitated and allowed to serve the Church again.
In Yunan, the Catholic Church has 60,000 members, mostly from ethnic minorities. However, the diocese has not had any bishop in communion with the pope since 1952.
In 1962, the authorities did appoint Fr Kong Lingzhong, who died in 1992. Ma Yinglin’s turn came in 2006.