Dengkou (AsiaNews) - The installation of Mgr. Matthias Du Jiang as bishop of Bameng (Inner Mongolia), can help "normalize" the pastoral work in the diocese, but the "forced" concelebration with an illegitimate bishop could make relations with the faithful and underground communities more difficult.
Bishop Du was secretly ordained with Holy See approval in 2004. Not being recognized by the government, his ministry met with many obstacles. His installation ceremony on 8 April was also to have marked his recognition as a bishop by the government authorities.
Several priests and bishop Du tell AsiaNews that they "felt regret the forced concelebration with Bishop Ma Yinglin of Kunming, illegally ordained in 2006. Ma Yinglin is also secretary general of the council of Chinese bishops [a kind of official Episcopal conference of bishops, not recognized by the Holy See] and vice-chairman of the Patriotic Association (PA), which works to build a national Church separate from Rome.
According to several sources, Mgr. Du resisted PA pressure to celebrate with Ma Yinglin for days. Some sources also have spoken of the bishop being under house arrest before and after the installation mass. But according to subsequent information received by AsiaNews, Mgr. Du is not under house arrest, although in the days before the ceremony he was under close watch.
Several priests are still saddened by " forced celebration " because it may have violated the principles of the Church. Just a few weeks ago the Vatican Commission for the Church in China issued a statement asking the bishops united with the pope to avoid "making gestures (such as, sacramental celebrations, Episcopal ordination, attending meetings) that contradict communion with the Pope. "Now Mgr. Du can operate as a bishop in the open. One of his first celebrations will be to ordain three priests on April 25. Two of them have waited for years, as deacons, for their ordination. Probably, on April 18, Bishop Du also will travel to attend the Episcopal ordination (approved by the Holy See) of Fr Meng Qinglu Bishop of Hohhot (Inner Mongolia).
Fr. Wu Fusheng confesses to AsiaNews his fear that this act may undermine his relationship with the faithful. Members of local religious affairs office spoke with him five times to force the celebration and he has always refused. But in the end he could not avoid attending the forced celebration because the Church and priests were all under control. According to some sources, all the priests, the day before the celebration were invited to a long talk with members of religious affairs in a hotel near the church.
Another priest, Fr Joseph fears that after the celebration their relationship with the underground community may deteriorate, just as the ties between the two communities were improving after a long time.
An underground priest of the Bameng area tells AsiaNews that concelebrating with an illegitimate bishop will inevitably hurt communion and reconciliation within the Church.
On March 28, long before the installation ceremony, Mgr. Du met with 20 priests and nuns to discuss the issue. Most of them have pointed out that there was no hurry and asked him to postpone the ceremony and to exclude bishop Ma from the installation.
According to Fr Joseph, some priests understand Mgr. Du, for accepting the installation, given the long years he has lived under many restrictions, while others reject it for not having being consulted.
At the beginning of Mass, a priest of the PA Council of Bishops and representatives read the appointment of Mgr. Du by the Council. Then, Bishop Du presided the Mass, whereas Bishop Ma, in his bishop’s vestments, sat among the priests. In his homily, Mgr. Du explicitly thanked the pope for appointing him bishop of Bameng.Local sources say that before and during the installation ceremony many security teams were deployed, all the details of the liturgy, including the time of entry and list of participants were prepared by government authorities.
Only 300 people received permission to attend the ceremony, although the church could contain at least 1000. Among the guests, there were 100 government representatives, 180 nuns and 40 priests and faithful.
Bishop Du tells AsiaNews that the most urgent needs of his diocese is the formation of priests, nuns and faithful, as well as strengthening evangelization.The Diocese of Bameng consists of about 40 thousand Catholics, is served by 24 priests, 27 sisters, 3 deacons. More than 10 thousand faithful belong to the underground community.