07/06/2013, 00.00
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After one year of house arrest, Chinese Catholics pray for Mgr Ma Daqin, bishop of Shanghai

by Jian Mei
His forced absence and silence are bringing Catholics together, boosting the high regard with which the Catholic Church, and even non-Christians hold him.

Shanghai (AsiaNews) - Chinese Catholics are praying non-stop for Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest since the day of his ordination a year ago, 7 July 2012.

In the past 12 months, his forced silence and absence have generated sympathy and support for the Church in China, even among non-Christians. His courage and loyalty to the pope has given strength and hope to Catholics inside and outside the country.

Mgr Ma's case, the death of Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, and before that, the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Xing Wenzhi, have cast a shadow over the future of the diocese.

In a vendetta against Mgr Ma, the religious authorities also shut down the preparatory and theological seminaries of Sheshan.

Sources in Shanghai told AsiaNews that after a period under house arrest at the Sheshan seminary, Mgr Ma was removed from the sanctuary, in all likelihood to Shanghai.

He was taken away before Mgr Jin's death and before the month of May when the pilgrims flock to Our Lady of Sheshan shrine.

Some sources said he has been forced to study at an institute of socialism in Shanghai; others said that he was taken to Beijing. All, however, continue to hold him in their thoughts.

"We miss him very much," a Catholic from the diocese said. "We would like to see him, but we must be patient, as Pope Francis teaches us".

Since July 2012, the bishop has been allowed sometimes to use his microblogging and sina weibo accounts to post messages, which usually get a lot of answers and comments.

So far Mgr Ma has posted articles and poems on the death of an old priest and of Bishop Jin, as well as on devotion towards one's parents. He has also sometimes encouraged his priests by sharing with them his faith meditations inspired by his life of isolation.

He has also posted several parts of a play he wrote about Paul Xu Guangqi, a friend of Matteo Ricci and Shanghai's first convert, whose cause for beatification is going along with that of the Jesuit missionary.

On 29 June, feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, a posting on Mgr Ma's sina weibo account expressed best wishes to 14 priests and 4 seminarians with those names from the diocese of Shanghai. In it, he names each of them individually, signing off as Ma Daqin, without using his title since the government removed him from his office as 'bishop of Shanghai'.

On 11 June, Duanwu, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, he posted a poem to express his grief and sorrow for Qu Yuan, a poet who is remembered during the celebration as a faithful servant of the emperor who was sentenced to death because of slander. Mgr Ma probably can see the similarities between his fate and that of ancient poet.

Since microblogging and sina weibo are interactive, many readers forward his messages and can post their comments and messages. Many have been addressed to him as "bishop", greeted him, comforted him and given him the latest information.

"Dear Bishop," one posting read, "how are you? Where are you? We miss you a lot. You are our good shepherd. Wherever you are, God is with us."

"We are praying for the Church in China and unity with the universal Church," another wrote.

Benedict XVI appointed Mgr Ma as coadjutor bishop of Shanghai, a choice recognised by the government. At his ordination, he stood clear of an illegitimate bishop concerned that the latter might try to place his hands on him, and then quit the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Catholics praised his decision and showed him their support; however, on 7 December 2012, the authorities removed him from his office as bishop coadjutor, accusing him of violating China's religious regulations

Although Ma's case caused further riffs between Beijing and the Holy See, it has also encouraged reconciliation and unity within the Church in China.

Many Catholics are proud of him, his courage and wisdom and hold him in high regard. Thanks to his writings, he has also come to be highly regarded for his knowledge of Chinese literature and for his talent as a writer of theatre and poetry, as well as for his work in photography.

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