Rome (AsiaNews) – "The ceremony took place in a calm manner," said one of the priests who took part in today’s episcopal ordination of Mgr Joseph Zhang Yinlin as bishop of Anyang (Henan).
The “calm” he mentioned refers primarily to the fact that all three ordaining bishops are in communion with the Holy See: Mgr Shen Bin of Haimen (Jiangsu), Mgr Yang Yongqiang Zhoucun (Shandong), and Mgr Wang Renlei Xuzhou (Jiangsu).
This ordination did not follow the pattern of previous years – 2011 and 2012 – when the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) tried to impose some of its excommunicated members as ordaining bishops, causing mayhem among the faithful and shame among the bishops.
This, it must be said, is the result of good relations between the diocese and the government, as well as a calculated strategy of postponing the ceremony until now.
In the end, the Council of Bishops (China’s ersatz bishops' conference*) allowed the presence of three ordaining bishops, chosen by the candidate himself, all in communion with the pope. Two of them are classmates of the newly ordained prelate.
Before the ceremony, several analysts stressed its importance. This is the first ordination after that of Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai, which ended with the bishop’s arrest and detention because he had resigned from the CCPA. It is also the first during Pope Francis’ papacy. Since he was elected, the pontiff has sent messages of friendship to Xi Jinping and the Chinese people.
It would too much to explain the ceremony’s smoothness to some signals between China and the Vatican or to a lessening of tensions or better relations. Such calm freedom and fidelity to the pope is the work of Anyang Catholics and Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin. The latter never brushed aside engaging government authorities in dialogue but always stressed that obedience to the faith was his priority.
For a long time, (as an underground bishop since 1981) Mgr Zhang refused to be recognised by the government. Only when he was sure that he did not have to join the CCPA and that he could fulfil the duties of his religious ministry, did he accept to become an official bishop in 2004. He did so after he explained his undertaking to his fellow Catholics. No CCPA for him.
Even today, all the priests in the diocese respect the government but care first for evangelisation, and try to keep the CCPA as far away as possible.
This has allowed the diocese to grow considerably as measured by its involvement with young people, the 120 nuns who belong to the St Joseph Community (founded by PIME’s Fr isaia Bellavite), its role in seminarian and priestly preparation, its action to reclaim Church assets and its service to the mission.
The diocese offers medical care to residents, especially in field of eye care, with at least 11 clinics, a hospital, and a kindergarten.
It is also involved in catechesis, with a catechetical centre and a facility for spiritual retreats, led by a brother of the new bishop, who is also a priest.
Combining evangelisation and human development is part of the diocese’s modus operandi since the first PIME missionaries arrived.
Henan was the land where Mgr Simeone Volonteri (1831-1904) undertook his mission. Honoured with an imperial award for his qualities as a scientist, he was also recognised for his work in the fight against famine and floods.
The province saw the missionaries condemn the Opium Wars, refuse to take the money Western powers extracted from China as compensation for the violence and destruction experienced during the Boxer Revolt, or if they did accept it, used it to create jobs for the Chinese.
The involvement in education and priesthood training has a long tradition.
Perhaps, after this episcopal ordination, Anyang’s Catholic community can become a model, simple and humble, on how we can experience evangelisation of China, remaining faithful to the Church and the pope whilst engaging the government in dialogue, without compromising one’s mission.
* The Council of Bishops is not recognised by the Holy See because ii includes bishops who are not in communion with the Vatican.