Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The new Archbishop Eugene Martin Nugent, a former papal representative in China, "bears the fatigues and complaints” and took on “all the heat and burden of the extremely complicated situation” of the Church in China, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said in his homily at the archbishop’s Thanksgiving Mass on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, one day after his Episcopal Ordination in the Vatican.
To celebrate the promotion of the new archbishop, many communities of the Chinese Church - both official and underground - celebrated special masses to pray for Mgr. Nugent as he was being ordained at the Vatican. Meanwhile today at the Vatican, the new session of the Commission's work on China begins.
The Commission, created in 2007, is formed by some department heads of the Roman Curia, representatives of the Chinese Church and members of religious congregations. The work, which will end Wednesday, will affect the human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation of seminarians and consecrated persons, and that of the ongoing formation of priests. There are no sessions on "diplomatic" relations between the Vatican and the Beijing government scheduled.
Archbishop Nugent, new Nuncio bishops to Madagascar, was ordained by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state. The next day, Mgr. Nugent celebrated his Mass of thanksgiving in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica of Santa Mary Major. Speaking to the faithful, he said: "It's a great honour for me to become bishop of the Church and the Pope's ambassador. But it's also a great responsibility: that is why I ask you to continue praying for me and with me, so I can continue the mission of the Church". The ten years of work with the Church in China, he added, "I consider one of the greatest blessings that I have been granted in life."
According to the card. Zen, "Mgr. Nugent was the de facto Nuncio in China: he arrived in Hong Kong without any diplomatic status, was almost unknown to the Catholic community and to society. For many years he lived and worked in a small apartment, sharing a meal with the religious community next door".
For years, he added, "he worked with the Chinese church, exchanging letters and messages in a language he could not know," while the Chinese government "did not show him much sympathy." Mgr. Nugent was granted a visa to enter China only once in ten years. One of the most painful moments of his job was to work with people whom he could not meet, through secret correspondence that was run at the risk of the messengers.
This form of communication so far from ideal, "caused more suffering to his heart, when in response to his hard work and his loving care came misunderstandings and complaints. Hopefully, when times are better, we will be able to communicate to our brothers and sisters of the mainland the full truth of his love and service that he offered them on a daily basis".
Admiring the faith, witness, humility and patience Mgr. Nugent, Card. Zen again expressed his gratitude to the Nuncio with four Chinese characters: "Ren lao ren yuan", they mean "bears hardships and complaints." According to the bishop of Hong Kong, Mgr. John Tong Hon, "the new archbishop is a good and spiritual man, attached to the principles of the Church."
Since 2000, many dioceses of the Church in China have had to face the issue of Episcopal succession, as many bishops (of 80 or 90 years) have begun to die or have retired. Cases of illicit episcopal ordinations, such as those of 2006, and conflicts between the official and unofficial church have caused much suffering to the representative of the pope. The ordination of Mgr. Nugent was attended by over 300 people, among them, many Chinese.