Henan, Bishop of Zhengzhou ordained with Pope Francis' approval
Msgr Wang Yuesheng, 57, president of the Patriotic Association in this province, had long been the Party's designated administrator in a diocese without a bishop since the Communists exiled the Italian Xaverian missionary Faustino Tissot in 1953. The rite was presided over by Shanghai Bishop Shen Bin.
Zhengzhou (AsiaNews) - A new bishop was ordained this morning in the People's Republic of China, two years after the last ordination in Wuhan on September 8, 2021. On the liturgical feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Fr. Wang Yuesheng, the 57-year-old priest and president of the Patriotic Association in this Chinese province and long-time de facto administrator of this local Church, was consecrated bishop of Zhengzhou - the large capital of Henan, which lies right in the centre of China.
Presiding over the rite - which took place in accordance with the Agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China on the appointment of bishops - was the bishop of Shanghai Joseph Shen Bin, at the centre of last year's transfer unilaterally decided by Beijing and then remedied in July by Pope Francis. He was assisted by Bishops Zhang Yinlin of Anyang and Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun.
The ceremony was reported by the website chinacatholic, the official voice of Chinese Communist Party controlled Catholic bodies, which (despite the Agreement) does not mention the Vatican in any way, limiting itself to saying that he had been "elected as bishop-designate on 22 March 2022". The Pope's approval, however, was there: the news of the ordination appears in the bulletin issued by the Vatican Press Office at noon today. And it would not be the only one: two other episcopal ordinations are also reportedly on the way, one of which concerns a bishop who had already been approved before the Agreement.
The new bishop of Zhengzhou's appointment is the first one of a bishop 'agreed' between Beijing and the Vatican since the second renewal took place in October 2022. In all these months, there had only been 'transfers' unilaterally decided by Beijing: that of Bishop Pen Weizhao to the diocese of Jiangxi (in November 2022) and that to Shanghai of Bishop Shen Bin (which took place in April 2023 and was then 'remedied' by Pope Francis three months later). The last appointment under the Agreement was over two years ago, when Franciscan Francis Cui Qingqi was ordained bishop of Wuhan on 8 September 2021.
The Church of Zhengzhou was established as an apostolic prefecture in 1906 and entrusted to the Italian Xaverian missionaries. With the rite celebrated today with the papal mandate, Msgr. Wang Yuesheng - who is originally from the city of Zhumadian and has been a priest since 1993 - becomes the successor of the Italian bishop Msgr. Faustino Tissot, a Xaverian missionary, appointed by Pius XII in 1946 and then expelled by the communist regime together with his confreres in 1953, after years of real martyrdom.
On his return to Italy, Msgr Tissot had continued to carry out a long and fruitful ministry in the service of Propaganda Fidae and his missionary institute, until his death in 1991 at the age of 90. In the meantime, for his diocese of Henan - which he always cherished in his heart - no bishop had been appointed and the diocese had been led by the successors of the apostolic administrator he had appointed, until the retirement of the last one in 2012.
It was at that point that pressure from Fr Wang Yuesheng, the Party's point man for the Catholic Church in Henan, became stronger. And it was those members of the local clergy who were less inclined to compromise that came under heavy pressure. All this at a time when in Henan the Patriotic Association was "experimenting" with banning all young people under the age of 18 from entering church to attend mass in the name of the "new religious regulations".
More recently in 2021 - when many churches in Henan were still forcibly closed due to the Covid emergency (as opposed to factories, restaurants and cinemas) - Fr Wang Yuesheng had made another gesture: at Easter - in front of the entrance to his church, inaccessible for celebrations - he had nevertheless wanted to join the call to celebrate the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, through an exhibition dedicated to its 'glorious history'.