10 priests did not participate at Mass for the late Msgr. Yang Libo. With thousands of faithful they accuse the present bishop, ordained in the underground community, of having sought governmental recognition without sharing this with his community. The authorities forcibly removed the inscription on the tombstone on Msgr. Yang’s grave, which recorded the periods he spent in prison because of the faith (almost 30 years). The difficulties of reconciliation.
Lanzhou (AsiaNews) - Msgr. Giuseppe Han Zhihai of Lanzhou joined by 20 priests and a few hundred faithful has commemorated his predecessor, Msgr. Filippo Yang Libo, who was an underground bishop, not recognized by the government. Msgr. Han, instead, as an underground bishop, was officially installed last November.
The ceremony took place on February 17 on the second day of the Chinese New Year. However, the event only served to highlight the division that exists in the community due to the governmental recognition of Msgr. Han.
The diocese of Lanzhou has about 30 thousand faithful. Only a few hundred took part in the Mass at the church of Songshu Zhuang (Wuwei, Gansu), where the deceased bishop is buried. At least 10 priests chose not to participate. They, along with some thousands of faithful do not approve of the way in which Msgr. Han obtained government recognition. They are also irritated by the fact that the bishop, immediately after this recognition, brought a group of nuns and priests on a pilgrimage to Jinggangshan (Jiangxi), considered the cradle of the communist revolution, the starting point of Mao Zedong's Long March.
Msgr. Han is accused of having submitted himself to the control of the Patriotic Association for several years, without involving his faithful and priests, and continuing at the same time to play the role of "underground bishop" until his recognition last November.
The 10 priests opposed to his adhesion to the Patriotic Association have promised that they will not participate in the next spiritual retreat or in the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass.
Maria, a Catholic lay woman who took part in the Mass in memory of the deceased bishop, said that with the ceremony, "Bishop Han wanted to mend his relations with his flocks, who felt that he has abandoned Bishop Yang’s path of staying loyalty to his faith, and his attempt to eliminate the great work of his predecessor".
"He must have sought prior approval from the government. If not, how could he now an official bishop commemorated an underground bishop, especially Archbishop Yang was known to be a staunch defender of faith? The government’s enmity towards the archbishop even showed in removing inscription on his tombstone regarding his suffering for the faith during the Cultural Revolution".
The faithful expected that, before the commemoration, Msgr. Han would have restored the inscription on the tombstone , but it did not happen.
In the weeks following his installation, Msgr. Han was strongly criticized by a large number of believers and on social media, and to defend himself, he also wrote two open letters.
"The installation - continues Maria - was only a triggering point of discontent towards the personality of Bishop Han that has existed for a long time. So some felt he is now using the occasion to show that he is the legitimate successor of Bishop Yang".
"But it is not easy to turn around the bad impression on him as laypeople over 40 years old are all deeply influenced by the morality and teachings of Archbishop Yang. And if it is right to join the CPA, does that mean the 30-year imprisonment of Bishop Yang was a waste?".
In his homily, Msgr. Han defended himself, underlining that it is not necessary for the faithful to be aware of all Church affairs.
"This means - says Maria - that the important issues of the diocese will continue to be conducted without transparency: as was the case for the 'revolutionary' pilgrimage to Jinggangshan, of which nothing was known until it occurred".
"He also boosted the development of Lanzhou diocese today was the intercession of Bishop Yang in heaven without a word on the contributions of the deceased bishop. Does he imply all the success now was by himself, not by the solid foundation built by the archbishop?".
The newly recognized bishop also highlighted the need to cooperate with the Communist Party for the development of the Lanzhou diocese.
Another faithful commented: "It is very difficult to reconcile official and underground, even from the point of view of history, given that the Party does everything it can to eliminate and suffocate one part".
Since 1878 Songshu Zhuang has been the center of the mission of the religious of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and of the Society of the Divine Word. It was also the first base of the Lanzhou diocese.
Bishop Philip Yang Libo (or Libai) was born into a Catholic family and ordained a priest in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party took power. His first arrest due to the faith occurred in 1952. He was then released in 1979, when with Deng Xiaoping in power, religious activities were given some breathing space. In 1981 he was secretly ordained bishop of Lanzhou, without government approval.
In 1983 he was arrested and imprisoned for another four years. In 1989, in a heavy persecution against the underground communities, Msgr. Yang was arrested along with almost all the underground bishops. In 1990 he was sentenced to three years of forced labor. In 1992 he was released for good behavior and dedicated all his energies to rebuilding the diocese and to educating priests and nuns.
He died in Wuwei on February 15, 1998. Bishop Han was ordained on January 5, 2003 as his successor and without government recognition, until last November.