The unofficial bishop was 96 years old, 23 of which he spent in prison for his faithfulness to the pope and the universal Church. After he slipped and fell to the ground, he hit his head. Admitted to hospital, where he was denied the right to meet visitors, he died shortly thereafter. On government orders, the diocese of Yujiang was merged with that of Nanchang. The prelate’s funeral is set for this Wednesday. The government has allowed the faithful to expose his body for four days.
Yujiang (AsiaNews) – Mgr Thomas Zeng Jingmu, bishop emeritus of Yujiang, passed away on Saturday (2 April) at the age of 96. He was a member of the non-official Church, and had spent several years in jail for his faithfulness to the pope.
According to a report on Catholic online, the prelate slipped a few days ago and suffered a head injury. Hospitalised, he was kept alone in a room. Government officials barred visitors from seeing him. His funeral is scheduled for this Wednesday (6 April).
Catholics from various parts of the country have been visiting the bishop's home, where his body is laying, and to pray for his eternal rest.
A Catholic laywoman told AsiaNews that Bishop Zeng had been “a true witness of Christ in his whole life”, adding that the prelate’s “faith and spiritual poverty” had impressed her. She hoped that the Church in Jiangxi could unite.
Local Catholics said government officials refused their demand to have an eight-day exposition of the body for Catholics to pay their last respect, but were only granted four days.
Born in 1920, Mgr Zeng Yujiang entered the seminary at the age of ten. He was ordained priest in 1949, and was secretly consecrated bishop in 1990. In between, he was arrested several times, and spent some 23 years in prison, including during the period of persecution of the Cultural Revolution, for, among other reasons, his refusal to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). In 2000, he entered the Dominican Order, and retired in 2012.
Mgr John Peng Weizhao was named his successor. Ordained in 2014, he was arrested in May of that year, and released in November. Since his predecessor’s death, he has been kept under strict police surveillance.
Mgr John Li Suguang Nanchang heads the official community in Jiangxi. He was ordained in 2010, and some unofficial Catholics, including three priests, attended his episcopal enthronement.
As part of the Chinese government’s reorganisation of the Church, Yujiang is one of five Jiangxi dioceses incorporated in that of Nanchang.
With regards to the Holy See, Mgr Li Suguang is in an ambiguous situation. In the past, he has participated in unlawful ordinations and seems more willing to obey the orders of the CPCA. This is not the case for Mgr Peng, who was trained in the underground Church.
The Diocese of Yujang has a large proportion of unofficial Catholics and priests, i.e. not registered with the CPCA, thus not recognised by the government.
Provincial authorities rarely allow foreigners to visit local places of worship, and often place tourists into the hands of handlers wherever they go.
According to some estimates, local Catholics number around 15,000.