More than 10,000 faithful attend the funeral of Mgr Xie, underground Bishop of Mingdong

Fuzhou (AsiaNews/UCAN) – More than 10,000 faithful from both the official and the underground Catholic Church gathered on August 27 at a church in Luojiang (near Fu'an, some 1,500 km from Beijing) to take part in the funeral of Mgr James Xie Shiguang, underground Bishop of Mindong, who died of leukemia on August 25. His death came 20 days after that of Mgr Zhang Shizhi, the Bishop of the official Church in the diocese. Coadjutor Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng, 82, who celebrated Bishop Xie's funeral, now heads the diocese.

After the funeral, Bishop Xie's body was cremated; three days later, his ashes were laid to rest in a Catholic cemetery, 3.5 kilometres from the church.

Local sources report that public security officers were stationed at the church during the funeral mass as well as a memorial mass held two days later.

An underground priest said police prevented clergymen from outside the province from going to the funeral. Catholic websites were blocked and webmasters were warned they would be closed if the obituary, condolences and photos of Bishop Xie were not removed.

Mindong's new Bishop, 45-year-old Zhan Silu, remembered Bishop Xie as a man "who from birth devoted his life to Fujian province. I respected and admired him. Now, I pray for the eternal repose of his soul in heaven, and thank him for dedicating his life to the Church."

"All official church parishes have prayed for the late bishop in their masses," Bishop Zhan said. "He always encouraged us to be in communion with others."

Bishop Xie's path to the priesthood was not easy. At 13 he began seven years of study at the minor seminary in Baoding, his birthplace. He then joined a Trappist monastery, but illness forced him to leave two years later. In 1940, he entered the major seminary in Beijing but had to move from one seminary to another during the Japanese occupation (1931-1945) and the civil war in China (1946-1949). After his ordination in 1949, he saw many classmates flee China, but he chose to stay and serve in Fujian at the bishop's request.

Bishop Xie was arrested four times and spent 28 years in prison. His first stint in prison was in 1955 for a year. The second one began in 1958 and ended in 1980. In 1984, he began serving another three years and in 1990, he went back for two more years.

In October 1999, government officials "invited him for a chat" that lasted two months at an unknown location. Thereafter, he was free but under surveillance till he died.

His repeated arrests were caused by his steadfast refusal to join the official Patriotic Association, the government body that supervises Churches and that has set up a Catholic Church that is separate from Rome.

Mgr Huang, the new Ordinary, shared 50 years with the late Bishop Xie. He, too, was sentenced to labour camps in 1957 "for counter-revolutionary crimes".

In 1972 he was also arrested for writing instructional booklets for pastoral ministries, and was freed in 1980. After Bishop Xie was jailed in 1984, Huang was ordained a bishop in 1985 to take over the vacant see.

The last time he was arrested was in 1990 when he spent another year in jail.