The installation ceremony was deserted by official and underground Catholics. The Patriotic Association continues its scheme of controlling and dividing the Chinese Church.
Rome (AsiaNews) A future of isolation and division awaits Monsignor Zhan Silu, age 45, a bishop not recognized by the Holy See, who yesterday installed himself as bishop of the Diocese of Mindong (Fujian). The ceremony, which saw the attendance of 500 laypeople, 13 priests but no bishop, took place in Ningde, the prelate's city of birth. The diocese is made up of over 80,000 Catholics. Of these, more than 70,000 belong to the underground Church. Only 10,000 adhere to the official Church. There are 45 underground priests and 13 official ones. AsiaNews sources confirm that, in preceding days, the priests and faithful of Ningde were forced to take part in the ceremony. The majority of Catholics in the official Church and the totality of those in the underground Church chose not to attend the Mass and the reception that followed it because Monsignor Zhan does not have Vatican approval. Priests of the two branches of the Church are very critical of the new bishop and maintain that this installation will not help in smoothing out relations between China and the Holy See in the wake of recent developments. In the last two weeks, the Patriotic Association went through with two ordinations without the Holy See's approval, in Kunming and Wuhu, provoking the Vatican, which defined these ordinations as a "serious violation of religious freedom", to speak out.
In an interview with AsiaNews, the newly-installed bishop, Monsignor Zhan, ruled out any tie between the two illicit ordinations and his instalment. But according to Vatican figures, yesterday's gesture reflects the intention of the Patriotic Association (P.A.) to reaffirm its power over the official Church, filling vacant episcopal offices in China with personnel it can trust. Zhan was ordained on January 6, 2000, in Beijing, together with other 4 candidates in a ceremony arranged by Liu Bainian, lay vice-president of the P.A., in order to contrast initial signs of dialogue between China and the Vatican.
AsiaNews sources say that Zhan, being recognized neither by the Vatican nor by the faithful of Mindong, has spent all these years in an office which the government has made available to him in Ningde, his city of birth. His masses, deserted by the faithful, are attended by a few of his relatives and the odd P.A. employee.
Having taken possession of the diocese, he risks even more isolation and will not be able to exercise his pastoral ministry. He will in fact continue to live in Ningde and not in Fuan, the episcopal see of his predecessor, Bishop Zhang Shizhi, who died on August 5, 2005.
This hasty installation is also an attempt to stand in the way of the choice made by the Vatican for another candidate: Monsignor Huan Shouchen, an underground bishop who succeeded the late Bishop Xie Shiguang, known for his holiness, who died last year on August 25, 2005. Monsignor Huang, though a bishop of the underground Church, is much loved and respected by all the faithful of the Church of Mindong.