Rome (AsiaNews) Zhan Silu, new patriotic bishop of Mindong, tells AsiaNews that his ideal is to "offer his life to unite the Church of Mindong." For this reason, he decided to install himself as bishop of the diocese, even though he is unpopular with most Catholics of the diocese and despite having become bishop in an illicit ceremony, that of January 6, 2000, which did not have Vatican permission and which entails latae sententiae excommunication. There was no other bishop at yesterday's ceremony and Monsignor Zhan put on his own mitre.
Since 2000, the year he became bishop, his life has been spent in the most absolute isolation. The Patriotic Association, which had pushed him to be ordained, offered him a very beautiful and spacious office, furnished with antiques, in a government building. But no Catholic has ever gone to see him. Perhaps, tired of waiting, he decided to take matters into his own hands and installed himself as bishop of Mindong. "I knew there was opposition against me in the diocese and so I preferred to wait: I wanted to convince everyone, official and underground Catholics, to collaborate with me."
The Mindong Diocese consists almost entirely of believers who belong to the underground Church: out of 80,000 Catholics, more than 70,000, well organized and with a lot of vitality, are underground and can count on over 45 priests, 96 nuns and 400 lay catechists. There are about 10 official priests for a few official parishes. The possession-taking of the diocese goes to interrupt a process of reconciliation in the diocese. Last year, Monsignor Zhang Shizhi, official patriotic bishop (not recognized by the Vatican) and Monsignor Xie Shiguan, underground bishop, died within a few days of each other. The latter was so esteemed by everyone that priests and faithful of both branches of the Church took part in his funeral.
Monsigner Xie had a coadjutor bishop, Monsignor Huang Shoucheng who, in the Vatican's opinion, should have taken over responsibility for the diocese, uniting it even more. Monsignor Huang too is well-liked by the official Church.
Monsignor Zhan tells AsiaNews that Monsignor Xie had actually chosen him, Zhan, to succeed him. Then, however, there were the illicit ordinations of 2000 and he was rejected. Unconcerned about the consequences of his choice ("I am by no means dividing the Church."), Monsignor Zhan says that, in any case, to save the diocese's unity, he "informed various priests of the underground Church", before installing himself.
Monsignor Zhan seems not at all worried about the lack of Vatican approval: "I hope that sooner or later," he says, "the Vatican will approve of me and bless my efforts to unite the diocese."
Monsignor Zhan studied at the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong from 1995 to 1997. According to those who have known him, he had intentions even then of becoming bishop. Various priests from Hong Kong describe him as "ambitious" and "very close to the Communist Party" and have always dissuaded him from trying to become bishop.
In the end, yesterday, the time came from his installation. Monsignor Zhan says he did not receive "pressure from the government", but just informed the P.A. that he would hold the ceremony for taking possession of the diocese. Why May 14th? "Because it is the feast of the Apostle Matthias, the last to join the college of apostles. Like him, I too waited some years before entering into the episcopate." The only difference is that Matthias was chosen by the apostles: yesterday, Monsignor Zhan put the bishop's mitre on his own head.