10/13/2005, 00.00
china- vatican
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Government accepts funeral of underground bishop

Official and underground priests will co-celebrate at the ceremony.  The deceased bishop, who spent 24 years in prison, had a reputation of sanctity.

Hanyang (AsiaNews) –  Priests of both the official and underground Church will take part in the funeral for the underground bishop of Hanyang who died yesterday.  Provincial authorities have even allowed for the solemn ceremony to take place publicly.

The funeral of Monsignor Peter Zhang Bairen, unofficial bishop of Hanyang (Hubei), will be celebrated on Saturday, October 15, at 9 o'clock local time in Zhangjiatai, not far from his place of birth.  Strictly speaking, the funeral of an underground bishop would normally be prohibited as an illegal gathering.  But local Catholic sources have confirmed to AsiaNews that members of the regional government have accepted that the ceremony be held in public.

Monsignor Zhang was not recognized as bishop by the State Administration for religious affairs.  Just today, however, officials from this bureau went to Zhangjiatai to call on Fr Chen, the priest who will preside the funeral, and accepted the celebration.  "Do what you must," they said, "but ensure calm and quiet in days ahead and at the funeral."

Monsignor Zhang, age 91, died yesterday at 18:05 in Beijing, of a serious heart ailment which, given his age, was incurable.  The bishop had been bed-ridden for over a year.

The bishop will be buried in the Zhangjiatai countryside, in the Xiantao district.  Priests of the official Church and the underground Church will take part in the funeral Mass, but the Bishop of Wuhan, Monsignor Dong Guangqing, will not be present.

The city of Wuhan (Hubei) was divided into 3 dioceses: Hankou, Wuchang, Hanyang.  In the 1980s the government of China had restructured the subdivision of dioceses to make them coincide with provincial structures and government districts.  For this reasons, the 3 dioceses were united into the single diocese of Wuhan.  Bishop Zhang and his 4 priests continued, however, to serve the faithful to the present time.

Monsignor Zhang received episcopal consecration from Monsignor Liu Hede, the non-official bishop of Hankou Diocese in 1986.

Various members of the faithful remember him as a gentle and patient person, who was however tenacious on points of faith.  Due to his obedience to the Pope, he spent, as of 1955, 24 years in prison and labour camps.  Following his consecration, he suffered police checks and arrests.  Never defending himself or fleeing, he remained ever faithful to his relationship with the pontiff.  In 2000 he became gravely ill at which time the government also let up on its checks.  The faithful attribute to his sanctity and prayers the recovery of sick people that the bishop had visited.  For this reason, his reputation had spread throughout the Hubei countryside.

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