04/04/2023, 19.46
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No statement from the Vatican after Shanghai gets a new bishop

Beijing's unilateral decision to appoint Bishop Shen Bin affects an episcopal see that is key in the  past and present of China’s Catholics. Card Kung Pin-mei, who spent 30 years in prison, also served in Shanghai, where Our Lady of Sheshan is venerated and in whose name Benedict XVI instituted the Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

Milan (AsiaNews) – The Holy See was informed a few days ago of the decision by Chinese authorities to move Bishop Shen Bin of Haimen to Shanghai. He was inaugurated this morning.

Official Vatican sources told AsiaNews that they learnt about it from news reports in the media, and that the Holy See had not yet assessed the situation.

Today's unilateral decision follows by a few months a crisis sparked by Bishop John Peng Weizhao’s appointment as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi and what makes it worse is that the latest development comes a few days before Easter.

The episcopal see of Shanghai covers one of China’s largest metropolitan areas, and has played and still plays a crucial role in the life of the country’s Catholic community.

The local dynamic community has about 150,000 members divided in some 40 parishes, not to mention plenty of groups engaging local Catholics.

Its origins go back directly to Paul Xu Guangqi, a senior government official during the reign of the Ming dynasty. A disciple of Matteo Ricci, Xu is considered the city’s first Christian, and it is thanks to his invitation that Jesuit Lazzaro Cattaneo preached in the city for two years, starting in 1608.

Shanghai’s first church was built in Xujiahui district on land owned by Xu’s family where St Ignatius Cathedral now stands and where the new bishop was installed.

The city is also where the most important event in the history of Chinese Catholicism took place in the first part of the 20th century, in 1924, namely the Plenary Council of the Chinese Church convened by the then apostolic delegate, Card Celso Costantini. This was a crucial moment in the Church's reflection on the inculturation of Christianity in China.

Then came the storm of the Communist Revolution and the diocese saw its pastor, Bishop Ignatius Kung Pin-mei, shackled and chained. The first native Chinese bishop of the diocese, he was arrested by communist authorities on 8 September 1955 and held prisoner for more than 30 years before going into exile in the United States where he died in 2000.

When he was still in prison, he was created cardinal "in pectore" at Pope John Paul II’s first consistory in 1979, in order to show closeness to the Church in China, a decision made public only in 1991.

Meanwhile, after the Cultural Revolution, official Catholic bodies loyal to the party appointed their own bishop, Jesuit Aloysius Jin Luxian, who returned in communion with the pope in 2005.

Bishop Jin, who died in 2013 at the age of 97 leaving the episcopal see vacant. In 2012 the auxiliary bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who was appointed with a papal mandate, during his episcopal ordination, had refused to join the Patriotic Association and was thus removed from office. This left one of China’s foremost episcopal see without a pastor.

Before Ma, the other "official" auxiliary bishop, Mgr Joseph Wenzhi Xing, born in 1963, was forced to resign in 2011 for unknown reasons.

Since 2012 Bishop Ma Daqin has been under house arrest at the nearby seminary at the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, the devotional heart of Catholics in Shanghai and all of China.

In his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics, Benedict XVI instituted the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, which is celebrated every year on 24 May, calling on Catholics around the world to look towards the shrine.

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