No solemn funeral service for Mgr Guo Wenzhi, underground bishop of Qiqihar

The bishop, who was not recognised by the government, was of the best loved and respected figures of the Chinese Church. He ordained his successor, who was invited by the Pope to the Synod on the Eucharist. For the authorities, he was just a priest, and must be buried as such.

Qiqihar (AsiaNews) – Mgr Guo Wenzhi, Bishop Emeritus of the unofficial Diocese of Qiqihar, who died yesterday in his residence after a long illness, is unlikely to have a funeral as befits a bishop. Sources of AsiaNews in China said the government was against the solemn funeral service that the priests and faithful of the diocese wanted to hold for the bishop, one of the most loved and respected of China's Catholic Church.

Immediately after his death, local authority representatives said the deceased – who they recognised as a priest but not as a bishop – could only have a simple funeral and not a grand celebration.

Despite the government's attitude, the Church of Qiqihar, led by Mgr Wei Jingyi, has called on all priests, official and not, to offer masses in suffrage for the soul of the deceased bishop.

According to the Julian calendar, the bishop was 88 years, but according to the Chinese calendar, he died aged 89: this is because in Chinese culture, the age of a person starts from the moment of conception.

Born to a Catholic family in the city of Qiqihar, the capital of the eastern province of Heilongjiang, Mgr Guo was ordained a priest in 1948. Accused of being a counterrevolutionary by the Chinese government, in 1954 he was sentenced to 10 years forced labour in different laogai ["re-education through labour" camps] across the country. Consecrated as bishop in 1989, he was arrested again for participating in a conference of China's underground bishops.

After his release and despite hostile government opposition, his zealous evangelization greatly revitalized the Church in Qiqihar: he ordained his successor, Mgr Wen Jinyi, one of the four bishops invited by Benedict XVI to attend the Synod on the Eucharist that took place in Rome last October. Beijing did not allow the bishops to go, but the invitation was a sign of great honour and recognition of the Church and the bishop of Qiqihar.

Thanks to the efforts of Mgr Guo, many Catholic institutions and religious organizations were set up in the diocese, attracting religious vocations and conversions. In fact, apart from Mgr Wei, Mgr Guo formed and led many priests of the locality to ordination.