Over 20 thousand official and underground Catholics at the funeral of the bishop of Wenzhou
Wenzhou (AsiaNews / UCAN) - More than 20 thousand faithful from the underground and the official Church attended the funeral of Msgr. James Lin Xili, the underground bishop of Wenzhou, who died October 4 at 91 (see AsiaNews, 6.10.2009, " Mgr. James Lin Xili, underground bishop of Wenzhou, dies").
The two communities celebrated separate suffrage masses, from October 5 to 10, in the little church of Qiliang in Yueqing run by official Catholic. According to UCAN news agency sources the underground community was able to celebrate a Mass to commemorate the bishop on the 9th in a position "of great freedom and never unprecedented participation”.
On 10 October the two communities instead organised a final farewell to the prelate, first bishop of Wenzhou. A long procession (photo) accompanied the ashes of Mgr. Lin to the Catholic Cemetery of Panyang Hill. Over one thousand policemen guarded the Qiliang church but did not intervene in the celebrations.
The procession, which lasted two hours and a half, was led by a picture of Msgr. Lin, two meters high, loaded on a vehicle decorated with flowers. The government banned the faithful and the family from displaying a photo of the bishop wearing a mitre and carrying a pectoral cross and forbid the corpse from being vested in Episcopal robes. Local sources say however that despite the veto of the authorities, the relatives placed a bishop’s skullcap on the head of Msgr. Lin before his cremation.
The government never recognized the underground bishop, who spent many years in forced labour camps and under house arrest. The authorities also banned use of the word zhujiao (bishop) referring to Msgr. Lin during the funeral service, only allowing for the use of the title mu, pastor.
The funeral was attended by most of the 19 priests of the official Church and 18 of the underground diocese of Wenzhou. The only ones missing were the priests unable to attend for serious health reasons.
The procession which accompanied the ashes of Mgr. Lin cemetery drew the attention of many non-Catholics intrigued by the five kilometer long procession that paraded through the streets of Yueqing carrying wreaths of flowers, flags and colourful banners and playing drums and flutes.
According to authorities the faithful present at the ceremony numbered 8 thousand, while local sources claim that over 20 thousand people arrived in the city for the funeral including many Catholics originating from Wenzhou who live in other parts of China.
Bishop Lin was a well known and respected figure by both communities in the diocese which has about 120 thousand faithful, some of whom have migrated to other regions of the country. His arrest in 1999, the house arrest imposed on him in 2003, and disease have contributed to bringing the underground and the official community, which in the past have had tense relations, closer together.