Beijing (AsiaNews) – A priest who personally knew Mgr Casimir Wang Milu bears witness to the life of the underground bishop who died on 14 February (1942-2017). Mgr Wang was criticised some time for abusing the power given to bishops by the pope to ordain pastors without the permission of the Holy See. This power was permanently revoked in 2007. Mgr Wang always obeyed the pope and spent 13 years in prison for his faith. He died poor in a hospital without money for the necessary medical care.
I heard the name of Mgr Wang Milu for the first time when I was training in the seminary. At that time, all I knew was that Mgr Wang was the youngest of the three bishops consecrated by Mgr Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding (Hebei).
In the 1980s, at the risk of being excommunicated, Mgr Fan ordained three bishops loyal to the Holy See to enable the Catholic Church in China to survive. Their names are: Zhou Shanfu Yixian, Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, and Wang Milu of Tianshui (all dioceses in Hebei). Pope John Paul II did not excommunicate Bishop Fan; on the contrary, he granted him the privilege of ordaining Chinese bishops according to the rule "first ordain, then notify [the Holy See]."
Thanks to this privilege, the Church in China was able to increase the number of its bishops. In the history of the Chinese Catholic Church, there is big number of bishops (who were consecrated this way). At the risk of arrest, the young Bishop Wang Milu consecrated several pastors, including Yang Libai Lanzhou (Gansu), Yu Chengti of Hanzhong (Shaanxi), But Zhongmu Ningxia, Xiao Liren Shunde (Xintai, Beijing), Wang Chonglin of Zhaoxian (Beijing), and Li Xinsheng (auxiliary bishop of Tianshui). Later, Mgr Zhou Shanfu asked Fr Liu Guandong to help the young Wang Milu in the selection of new bishops. However, owing to Mgr Zhou’s poor health, Liu Guandong was chosen as auxiliary of the diocese of Yixian, and did not really hve the time to help Mgr Wang Milu.
In 1984, Mgr Wang Milu was arrested and jailed for ten years because of the secret ordinations of bishops. After his release, he travelled to many places to proclaim the Gospel, caring for the faithful. In autumn 1996 I was glad to meet him in Beijing. He was not very tall, had glasses and was full of energy. He looked older, although he was 50 years old. At that time, he was writing a pastoral letter for the 60th anniversary of the Ordination of the first group of Chinese bishops. With great humility, Mgr Wang made me read his text and asked for my opinion. I was really moved. Mgr Wang was also very concerned about what was happening in the Church in Shandong. He was like an older brother who took care of me.
After that time in Beijing, I did not have another chance to meet Mgr Wang Milu. In 2014 he called me in the Gansu to buy some of my books. I gifted them to him. To show his gratitude he gave me a book titled The Nestorian Church in China. Mgr Wang spoke to me in dialect but even though I could only understand a few of his words, I really liked to listen to him. I was very sad when he invited me to preach in his diocese, but I could not go because it was too far.
He shared with me everything, including his episcopal ordinations. For this reason, I can write these lines about him. He also confirmed the ordination of Fan Zhongliang in Shanghai, Meng Ziwen in Nanning (Guangxi), Hu Daguo as bishop of Shiqian (Guizhou).
On 3 January 2017, Bishop Wang unexpectedly suffered brain hemorrhage and was taken to hospital. His health deteriorated again after 29 January. His niece, Wang Weiyun was informed about the bishop's health and she asked me if I could help raise money to pay for his medical bill since the treatment was expensive and the bishop was poor.
At that time, I was helping some parish priests, and I had been appointed parish priest in another parish, so I did not have any opportunity to raise funds for Mgr Wang.
On 14 February, I received the sad news from Wang Weiyun that Mgr Wang had passed away in the evening of the day in which I was appointed parish priest in Weixian (Beijing). Wang Weiyun asked me to write a short obituary for him. I was sad, pained and with a deep sense of guilt because I had not been able to make any donation for Mgr Wang’s treatment.
Undeniably it is important to say that Mgr Wang made a great contribution to the Church in China at a time of very special historical circumstances, even though in some respects he was not able to do as well as well as he might have.
Given the special historical context in which Mgr Wang Milu lived, we should not put all the blame on him. Mgr Fan Xueyan of Baoding too made mistakes, like ordaining a man who was married without checking, and yet, we cannot deny his testimony of faith and contribution to the Church in China. Similarly, we cannot deny the contribution Mgr Wang Milu himself made to the Church. A Chinese proverb says: The dead person is great; a statue for the deceased. [We cannot forget that] he was jailed for 13 years because of his testimony of faith.
After thinking it over for many days, I decided to write this reflection to cherish with respect and admiration the memory of Mgr Wang Milu.
* Fr Peng Jian Dao, 53, is a parish priest in Yongnian (Handan, Hebei). He is the author of Understanding the Christian faith (2007).).