Underground Bishop Peng Weizhao becomes official in Jiangxi
The prelate, who was secretly ordained with a papal mandate in 2014 and arrested for this reason, took office as auxiliary bishop in a ceremony held today in Nanchang. The boundaries of his new diocese were drawn by the authorities. In Yujiang, the clergy is subjected to strong pressure. In his oath of office, Bishop Peng pledged to adhere to the principle of independent and self-managed churches and “guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society”.
Nanchang (AsiaNews) – In 2014 Pope Francis appointed John Peng Weizhao as bishop of Yujiang. As an underground prelate, he was held for six months by Chinese authorities. This morning he joined official Chinese Catholic organisations in a ceremony as the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi.
The ceremony took place in Nanchang in the presence of some 200 people, in a service led by the local bishop, Mgr John Baptist Li Suguang, who is also vice president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference, a body not recognised by the Holy See.
Bishop Peng Weizhao, 56, studied at the National Seminary in Beijing and became a priest in 1989. He was secretly ordained bishop of Yujiang with a mandate from Pope Francis on 10 April 2014 as the successor to Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, until then head of the local underground Church. The latter spent 23 years in prison, and died in 2016 at the age of 96.
A few weeks after his ordination in 2014, Bishop Peng was arrested. Released in November 2014, his ministry was severely impaired by the authorities.
Now he will be auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi, an important distinction since the pope appointed him bishop of Yujiang, an ecclesiastical circumscription created in 1885 and where Lazarist missionaries carried out their ministry before the communist revolution.
Thus, China, without any agreement with the Holy See, incorporated into a single diocese all the five ecclesiastical circumscriptions traditionally linked to the Metropolitan See of Nanchang.
Jiangxi now has two bishops, 58-year-old Mgr Li Suguang, official bishop of Nanchang (the capital of the province) since 2010, and Mgr Peng Weizhao, who becomes his auxiliary, something impossible without an agreement with the Holy See. So far, Vatican authorities have not issued any statement concerning the situation.
As AsiaNews reported two years ago, after the 2018 Agreement on episcopal appointments, the underground Church in Yujiang came under intense pressure to join the official Church.
Back then, many feared what happened in Mindong, Fujian, where underground Bishop Guo Xijin was pushed to accept the ministry of auxiliary bishop, only to give up after a few months, once he realised that he had little autonomy.
Bishop Peng probably came under tremendous pressure to do the same. On 22 September, he told his clergy that he had resigned as bishop of Yujiang and accepted the government's plan to integrate all the dioceses into one, the Diocese of Jiangxi.
On 11 October, he took part in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the bishopric of the new unified diocese that will be built in Nanchang; on that occasion, the new bishopric was also presented by official Catholic organisations controlled by the Communist Party of China as a role model for sinicisation, the key word indicated by Xi Jinping for the future of religions in China.
Despite some opposition among the clergy in Yujiang, Bishop Peng today accepted to become Bishop Li’s auxiliary.
According to China Catholic, a Catholic website controlled by the Communist Party, the bishop swore to “faithfully preach the gospel, lead the priests and Catholics of the Diocese of Jiangxi, abide by the national constitution, safeguard the unity of the motherland and social harmony, love the country and religion, adhere to the principle of independence and self-management of the Church, adhere to the direction of Sinicisation of Catholicism in our country, actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society, and contribute to the realisation of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. “
All this shows how Chinese authorities can pressure both official and underground bishops, and shape diocesan boundaries in accordance with their own political objectives, without too much concern for negotiations with the Vatican.