My memories of Msgr. Thomas Zhang Huaixin, a patient bishop for the Church's freedom
PIME missionary in Hong Kong, Fr. Sergio Ticozzi, met the late bishop many times when they would speak in Latin to avoid "indiscreet ears". He recalls the prelates material and spiritual reconstruction of the diocese of Anyang; his care for vocations; his receiving government recognition and his rejection of the Patriotic Association. How he waited for five years to ordain his coadjutor without "illegitimate bishops."
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - I felt a deep pain two days ago, when I first heard news of Msgr. Thomas Zhang Huaixin’s death. The bishop of the diocese of Anyang went to his eternal reward, and returned to the Father's house on May 8, 2016 , at 12.10, due to illness, aged 91.
I met him for the first time in 1985 and I remember his admiration for the PIME fathers he had worked with as a young man, he expressed himself in a Latin that was far more fluent than mine, so as not to be understood by any prying ears. I kept in touch with him, personally and through correspondence. The last letter that arrived two weeks ago urged me not to forget to pray for his diocese.
He was born in a village not far from Anyang, on May 23, 1925. He was educated by PIME fathers who worked in the missions at the time, both in the minor seminary in 1934 as well as the Regional Major Seminary in Kaifeng. On October 19, 1950, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Gaetano Pollio, Archbishop of Kaifeng. From 1952 to 1955 he was the diocesan promoter of justice in Tianjin and from 1955 he was in parish ministry in Anyang. In 1958 he was arrested and subjected to forced re-education through labor. It was only in 1980 that he was rehabilitated and allowed to return to his ministry. October 19, 1981, he was secretly ordained bishop of the diocese of Anyang (former Weihui).
I admired his zeal and his patience, for the material and spiritual construction of the diocese: on visits he brought me to meet the communities and new churches. In addition to the development of the diocese with repairs and construction of churches, including the cathedral, he was especially attentive to the formation of the clergy and the development of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who flourished in great numbers.
He was not officially recognized as a bishop by the Chinese authorities, but he needed priests and once formed he ordained five in the early years. But he constantly worried about them, because the authorities were bent on troubling them. So he then asked an official bishop to ordain the next six priests so that they could operate officially. However he felt himself caught in a dilemma: in the end he agreed to become official, on condition that he would have nothing to do with the Patriotic Association. On 22 October 2004, the legitimate bishop of Shenyang, Msgr. Jin Peixian presided over the ceremony for his public installation. Since then he officially ordained his priests. He was happy with the solution and joyfully explained it to me: It allowed him to form a good presbytery, as well as one of the largest congregation of sisters.
Despite this he was troubled by a deep concern, that is the problem of his succession, especially as his age and the burden of his ailments began to make themselves felt. He confided that he was preparing a successor and proposed his plan even to the Holy See. He was pleased when his candidate was approved by the Holy Father. But the problem of approval of the Chinese authorities remained. With patient tactics he succeeded in obtaining even the 'democratic' vote of approval. He wanted the episcopal ordination of his successor to take place as quickly as possible, especially as his health became a problem. But some authorities insisted on sending illegitimate bishops to attend the ceremony of ordination: This Msgr. Zhang could not allow! With his usual patience, but without expectations he passively stood by for about five years. On August 4, 2015, finally he managed, after patient negotiations, to ordain Msgr. Zhang Yinlin his coadjutor bishop, in a completely legitimate ceremony.
I think he spent his last months of life happy with having succeeded. This also alleviates my sorrow at his passing and makes me thank God for the gift of friendship with this holy bishop.