07/25/2009, 00.00
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Funeral of Msgr. Zhang Hanmin, bishop of Jilin

Bishop Damaso Zhang worked for the freedom of the Church despite the constraints posed by the regime and by the Patriotic Association. Because of Maoism, he had to wait 40 years to be ordained priest.

Changchun (AsiaNews) - The funeral of Msgr. Zhang Hanmin Damasus was held yesterday in the Cathedral of St. Teresa in Changchun (Jilin).  He died July 19 to 88 years. The funeral was presided over by Msgr. Paul Pei Junmin of Liaoning.  

Bishop Zhang was much loved by his people (70 thousand Catholic and 60 priests) and is one of the official Church figures who tried to live with total obedience to the pope and the Catholic Church despite the limitations imposed by the regime and the Patriotic Association.

Bishop Zhang was born January 15 1922 in the village of Xiabajiazi (Nong An County, Jilin) to a devout family.  He received a solid Catholic education in his youth, and early on voiced his intention to enter into consecrated life.  He studied in the minor seminary of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Jilin and then entered the major seminary in Beijing (St. Vincent). Because of political problems that arose with Maoism, in '53 he had to leave the seminary and was put to work as a teacher of foreign language, while keeping faith with his celibacy. He knew Latin fluently, English, Russian, Japanese, French.

In 1983, at the age of 61, he returned to the Diocese of Jilin and was ordained a priest on July 24 of that year.  

In '95 he became administrator of the Diocese of Jilin and was elected bishop on November 17 1997.

His ordination was delayed for two years, since he had sought the approval of the pope. On  May 9th 1999, Mgr. Shenyang Jin Peixian ordained him in the Cathedral of St. Theresa in Changchun.  

Bishop Zhang was a permanent member of the Patriotic Association and the Episcopal Council of China [a sort of Episcopal conference of the official church, not recognized by the Vatican]. He was also president of the Jilin Patriotic Association and has always been committed to safeguarding, as much as possible, the autonomy of the Church from political interference. Despite these constraints he has worked for closer relations with the universal Church, often inviting personalities from the Church abroad, and has encouraged a large number of its priests to pursue theological specializations abroad.

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