Mgr Fan's funeral set for 22 March but Mgr Ma Daqin's participation uncertain
by Jian Mei
The government never recognised the late underground bishop. Usually, in cases like his, the deceased cannot be referred to as 'bishop' and his body cannot be dressed with any Episcopal insignia. Catholics from both the official and underground Churches take part in memorial services for the late prelate. Having Bishop Ma (who is under house arrest) celebrate the funeral would be a gesture of reconciliation and accommodation.

Shanghai (AsiaNews) - Mgr Joseph Fan Zhongliang's funeral is set for this Saturday, 22 March. The Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 10 am at the funeral home where the body is currently lying in state. This will be followed by the farewell ceremony at 2 pm before the body is cremated. The latter will not likely be buried in a cemetery because Shanghai Municipality requires cremation for the dead.

Bishop Fan, 97, died last Sunday. As an underground bishop, he was not recognised by the government. In cases like his, the authorities do not allow funeral services in which the deceased is referred to as 'bishop', nor do they allow the body to be dressed with any Episcopal insignia (like his ring, mitre, or pectoral cross).

Some Catholics have told AsiaNews that they would like to see Mgr Thaddeus Ma perform the funeral service. Many messages have been posted to this effect on Weibo, the Chinese language Twitter.

Mgr Ma is in a delicate situation. Since he was ordained bishop on 7 July 2012, he has been under house arrest after he turned away from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-controlled organisation whose purpose is to build a Church independent from Rome.

Mgr Ma is now Shanghai's only bishop after the death a year ago of Mgr Aloysius Jin Luxian, a prelate with the official Church.

In recent days, many Catholics visited Mgr Ma's his blog (where authorities occasionally allow him to post messages) to see if he had something to say about Mgr Fan, but so far nothing was posted. For some Catholics, this is a sign that his freedom is even more restricted given the importance of the moment for the diocese.

Still, speaking to AsiaNews about Bishop Fan Zhongliang, Mgr Savio Hon Taifai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, said that he hopes to see Mgr Ma Daqin lead the funeral Mass for the late prelate.

"In addition to ensuring a dignified funeral, Ma Daqin's presence would provide a fraternal experience to Christians and bring advantages and harmony to the whole city."

Since the bishop's death, the authorities did allow Masses at the funeral home where Mgr Fan's body is lying in state. Priests and faithful from the official and underground communities from all over China (pictured) were thus able to attend the services.

In Mgr Ma Daqin's absence, the celebration could be led by Fr Zhu Yude, vicar general of Shanghai's underground community.