12/18/2017, 10.14
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Shanghai's St. Ignatius Cathedral reopens. Msgr. Ma Daqin Absent (Video)

by Li Yuan

It had been closed to worship for two years for restoration. The Mass of dedication was presided by the dean of the diocese and concelebrated by 50 priests. Several faithful hoped that Msgr. Ma Daqin would have resumed his episcopal ministry. But he is still under house arrest in Sheshan.

Shanghai (AsiaNews) - The St Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai Diocese in downtown Xujiahui district was reopened on December 16 after closing for more than two years for renovation.

The century-old cathedral has suffered from serious leaking and flaking of the ceiling that might endanger safety of the parishioners. The renovation project has to keep the original of the cathedral, which was named a national monument by the State Council in 2013.

The dedication Mass began at 9:00 am was celebrated by Father Wu Jianlin, dean of the downtown deanery. He was joined by about 50 local and visiting priests.

The church was packed with more than 2,000 Catholics with some arrived three hours ahead. After the Mass, each attendee received a gift pack that included a statue of St Ignatius made of purple clay, a rosary bead and a carrying bag with a portrait of the cathedral.

About a month ago before the reopening, some Catholics started to guess if Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin would be the main celebrant in the liturgy as this would be a sign whether he could finally carry out his episcopal ministry to lead the diocese.

Bishop Ma has been under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary soon after he declared quitting the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) during his episcopal ordination on 7 July 2012. Restriction on his movement was loosened in recent years.

However, in June 2016, Bishop Ma has shocked Catholics across China when he published an article repenting his decision to quit the CPA. Three months later, he was re-admitted to the CPA and now holding two posts.

On Easter Sunday 2017, he shocked his flock again when he went to Mindong Diocese in eastern Fujian province to concelebrate with Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, an illicit bishop who is not yet recognized by the Holy See. The concelebration was deemed as reconciling gesture as Bishop Ma had rejected Bishop Zhan laying hands on him in his episcopal ordination.

A subsequent report on the concelebration Mass posted on Mindong Diocese's Wechat account said, "Bishop Zhan introduced Bishop Ma from Shanghai to the faithful." In naming Ma as bishop, the report thus created illusions to some faithful that after all these repenting gestures, Bishop Ma could soon come out to lead the diocese. But he was not in sight in either the ordination for four new priests in August and the dedication Mass on December 16.

Around 11:00 am on December 16, Bishop Ma posted a message on his Wechat commenting that “the temperature in the hill is always 2-3 degree Celsius lower than in the city.” It implied that he was in the suburb Sheshan Seminary in the morning and did not join the Mass.

“Bishop Ma did not get reward from compromising himself [to the government]. No matter how he expressed [his remorse], he would only be abandoned,” Catholic blogger Hui Taiyang said with pity; whereas a Shanghai source who asked not to be named told Asia News, “It is still early to talk about Ma’s resuming his episcopal ministry.”

Built in 1905, the Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral was designed by a British architect and built with funds from French businessmen. It was completed in 1910 and is the largest Catholic Church in Shanghai that could hold 3,000 people.

According to the Shanghai Daily, renowned architect Liang Sicheng (1901-72) picked the Xujiahui cathedral among others when he was commissioned by the Kuomintang government to identify architecture worthy of preservation in 1945. But during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the tops of the two bell towers and the cross, the stained glass were all demolished. It was later used as warehouse of a fruit company and fell into disrepair. The building was returned to the diocese in 1979 and had been renovated twice in the 1980s and 1990s.

The latest restoration was “a thorough repair inside out since the church hasn’t any big-scale restorations since 1982 and the roof leaks seriously,” Chen Zhongwei, chief architect of the project, told the Shanghai Daily.

Another challenge was the cathedral left few old photos and blueprints but fortunately Chen discovered an original 1906 layout drawing from local Christian archives. 

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