07/10/2010, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN

New bishop of Taizhou ordained, after nearly 50 years of vacant see

by Zhen Yuan
Approved by the Vatican. The Diocese of Taizhu was among the first to have a Chinese bishop in 1926. The newly ordained bishop has spent 25 years in hard labour. "In prison I discovered that God is close to me". No problems in the relationship between official and underground Christians. After decades the diocese is reborn.

Taizhou (AsiaNews) - After 48 years of vacant see today the Diocese of Taizhou (Zhejiang) has a new bishop. Bishop Anthony Xu Jiwei, recognized by the government, was ordained this morning in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Taizhou (Jiaojiang district), with the approval of the Holy See.

The ordination was presided over by bishop Li Mingshu Qingdao (Shandong). Also present were bishop Zhao Fengchang of Liaocheng (Shandong), bishop Xu Honggen of Suzhou (Jiangsu) and bishop Han Yingjin of Sanyuan (Shaanxi), who became bishop two weeks ago. All these pastors are legitimate (in communion with the Holy See) and approved by the government.

The Diocese of Taizhou is famous in the history of the Chinese Church as its first bishop, Jou Hou-shan, was among the first six Chinese bishops ordained by Pope Pius XI in October 1926. Since Taizhou became a vicariate apostolic in 1926, separated from Ningbo, the diocese has had only two bishops: bishop Hou and the current neo-ordered bishop Xu, who is 75 years old. Bishop Hou died in 1962 and since then the Episcopal see has remained vacant until now.

Bishop Xu is a native of Shanghai and worked as a priest in Ningbo. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that since 1999 has been ready to serve the Church in the small diocese of Taizhou.

To date - said the bishop - Taizhou has 6,000 Catholics, five priests, nine nuns. The majority of the faithful come from the countryside. The diocese has 25 parishes and five chapels and places of worship.

Thanks to his roots in Shanghai and Ningbo, many believers from these dioceses - almost one thousand - took part in the ordination ceremony.

Bishop Xu told AsiaNews that he hopes to help unity mature between the priests, nuns and faithful of the diocese. He added that the official and underground communities in Taizhou are in no way marked by conflict.

Xu Bishop entered the seminary in Ningbo in 1948. He later studied at the Seminary of Xujiahui (Shanghai) until 1958. From 1960 to 1985, due to political events in China, he was sentenced to five years in prison and then to long years of forced labour, including a period of six years as a high school teacher.

"The period of imprisonment – he revealed - has strengthened my faith. During that period of great trial, I prayed every day ... I realized that God loves me deeply and it is with me everyday”.

In 1985, his sentence was revoked and he was sent to Shanghai, where he joined the regional seminary of Sheshan (Shanghai), with the first group of seminarians who received permission to study. Most of them were former seminarians forced to leave their studies during the Cultural Revolution. In 1985 he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Ningbo, but remained at Sheshan to teach. In 1987 he returned to Ningbo where he worked as pastor.

In 1999 he was transferred to Taizhou, where he became apostolic administrator of the diocese, working in the parish of Jiaojiang. Bishop Xu was also able to travel abroad for studies, to Daegu (South Korea) in 2006 and Europe in 2007.

Persecution arrested the development of the diocese of Taizhou. Within a few years of receiving its first bishop in 1926 the number of priests grew from 7 to 21. In 1957, Taizhou counted 6600 faithful, but all the churches were closed and its priests were arrested. Bishop Hou, very ill in prison, was released in 1962, but died the same year. At that time there were only three priests in the diocese.

In 1984 the government reopened some churches, but the diocese had no pastor. From 1991 to '96, two priests sought to organise the community of faithful, until '99, when the present bishop Xu became apostolic administrator. Since then he has gathered together some seminarians and has also founded a female congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Teresa.  

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