10/06/2009, 00.00
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Mgr. James Lin Xili, underground bishop of Wenzhou, dies

by James Wang
Even while sick and bed-bound he was controlled by the police. He spent 16 years in a forced labour camp, as a cobbler. Under him, the Church of Zhejiang flourished.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Mgr James Lin Xili, bishop of Wenzhou (Zhejiang) died on 4 October at the age of 91. For his faith he spent 16 years in labour camps and in recent years, though ill and immobilised in bed, he was constantly under police surveillance.

The bishops body was transported 45 km from Wenzhou to Yueqing, where, on 10 October the funeral will be held. It is not yet clear whether his body will be draped in the vestments of a bishop or whether the Church will celebrate the solemn funeral for an ordained priest. Bishop Lin has never been recognized as a bishop by the Religious Affairs Bureau. In 2004, on the occasion of his 60th priestly ordination, they banned him from wearing the insignia of bishops.

According to the agency UCAN, the police closed a Catholic site of Wenzhou, guilty of having published the obituary on Msgr. Lin and messages of condolence from the faithful. The local government was afraid that the bishop, whose condition worsened in late September, may have been buried on October 1, risking a rally of thousands of people on a day on which security measures were at their maximum level, given celebrations for the 60 years of the Republic of China.

Many believers of Wenzhou migrants in China and abroad, have already planned to take part in the funeral of the deceased prelate.

Born October 19, 1918 in Yueqing, Msgr. Lin Xili was ordained priest in 1944 and graduated from the Catholic University in Beijing, the Fu Ren, in 1948. Returned to his diocese of Ningbo, he worked in pastoral care at the beginning of the Communist persecution.

In '55 he was arrested for "counterrevolutionary crimes." For 16 years he was imprisoned in a forced labour camp, working as a cobbler. Released in '71, after Mao's death he recommenced in full his pastoral work restoring many churches destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and forming one of the most vibrant Catholic communities in China. In '92 he was ordained bishop of Wenzhou in secret and his community continued to flourish, today counting over 100 thousand faithful.

The imbalance between the underground and official believers faithful (several tens of thousands) has led to tensions in the past between the two communities, but in recent times, and especially after the Letter of Benedict XVI, the two communities have become increasingly reconciled. This reconciliation was facilitated in some way by the arrest of Mgr. Lin Xili in 1999, who since 2003 was forced to live under house arrest at the official Bishop's church of Wenzhou. Since then he has had to fight against his disease (Alzheimer) which led to him frequently loosing consciousness. Police continued to keep him under close surveillance until the very end.

(Foto: Ucan)

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