Bishop Zhan Silu ordained Fr. Joseph Chen Ming of Mindong and Fr. John Zhang Qingsheng of Minbei. It is the first public priestly ordination in 70 years. Bishop Guo preferred not to participate due to the pressure and violence that unofficial priests are being subjected to. Threats, blackmail and violence used against priests who refuse to sign the document for the independence of the Chinese Church.
Rome (AsiaNews) - The official bishop of Mindong (Fujian), Msgr. Zhan Silu has ordained two new priests, Fr. Joseph Chen Ming and Fr. John Zhang Qingsheng. The ceremony took place two days ago, on the feast of the apostles Simon and Judas, in the new cathedral of the diocese, dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Fr. Joseph Chen belongs to the clergy of Mindong (Ningde); Fr. John Zhang to that of Minbei.
The ceremony, which began at 9 am, was attended by priests from Minbei, Fuzhou, Jiangxi, 40 nuns and at least 1000 faithful. But everyone noticed the absence of Msgr. Guo Xijin, formerly Professor of Mindong and Fr. Chen’s spiritual director.
It is widely known that the diocese of Mindong is "the pilot program" in the Sino-Vatican agreement: Msgr. Guo accepted to be demoted from ordinary bishop to auxiliary bishop at the request of the Pope; Msgr. Zhan, ex-excommunicated and then reconciled by Pope Francis, became the ordinary bishop. But the Chinese government does not recognize Msgr. Guo because he refuses to subscribe - as the government asks - to adhere to the "independence" of the Chinese Church. He is joined by the majority of the priests of the diocese, who were also absent from the celebration.
There is a mixture of joy and sorrow among the faithful and priests. Yesterday is the first ordination to the priesthood after the Sino-Vatican agreements and above all the first public ordination in 70 years. In the past, the ordinations of the Church of Mindong, a largely unofficial community, took place in secret or without too many witnesses.
One priest points out that yesterday's public ceremony is very positive because "it emphasizes the priestly vocation and becomes a suggestion to the young people of the diocese", in which the lack of vocations is beginning to make itself felt.
The pain instead comes from the absence of Msgr. Guo and the other priests who do not accept the alleged "independence" of the Church, an ambiguous government formula that can mean total submission to the Chinese Communist Party, outside a relationship with the pontiff and the universal Church.
"It must be said - specifies another priest - that Msgr. Guo had been invited by the government to participate in the ordination, but he did not feel he could because of the pressures and violence that the unofficial priests are suffering at the moment".
Almost every day, in fact, emissaries of the United Front meet with these priests and urge them to sign the "independence" document through a mixture of speeches and threats.
One example above others is the case of the vice-pastor of the old cathedral, Fr. Liu Maochun (刘茂春 神父). He is responsible for the construction of an almost completed home for the elderly. Members of the United Front have threatened that if it does not sign, construction will be blocked. In subsequent visits, the blackmail became harsher: with each new refusal by the priest members of the United Front had something was destroyed, first a construction plan, then an entire floor.
Msgr. Guo explained the meaning of his choice not to participate in the ordination to his priests: "If the situation does not improve, I don't feel I can participate. And on the other hand, I must take care of these unofficial priests and faithful. This is the specific task that the Holy See has given me”.
One believer points out that "the greatest pain" is the division in the diocese, which threatens to drive Catholics away from the Church out of disgust.
"Msgr. Guo and Msgr. Zhan must reconcile and work together", continues the faithful. "Above all, Msgr. Zhan must support the requests of Msgr. Guo and not be satisfied with the freedom that the government gives to him".
According to some priests, at the beginning of the new situation - with Msgr. Zhan as ordinary and Msgr. Guo as an auxiliary - the collaboration between the two was very strong. Later the first seems to have been held back by the government; the other continues not to be recognized as a bishop.