News about the Catholic Church in China does not often get much exposure in the mainstream media in Hong Kong or elsewhere. Even the crux of the issue behind the strained relations between Beijing and Rome – the appointment of bishops – does not always attract much notice.
But the courageous act by newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin of Shanghai, who publicly resigned his positions in the local and national Catholic Patriotic Associations, has made headlines worldwide.
Hong Kong-based Cable TV was the first mainstream media group to report that Bishop Ma went missing on Monday. The next day, the free daily newspaper am730
devoted its front page to the story.
Additional reports by international news agencies have followed.
I am reminded of the role the media here played in spurring interest in the suspicious death of labor unionist Li Wangyang in Shaoyang, who organized rallies in support of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Li was found hanged in a hospital room on June 7 under suspicious circumstances. Tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong protested the following week to demand a full investigation of the death.
Lam Kin-shing, a reporter for Cable TV, had interviewed Li, who spent 21 years in prison for his involvement in the pro-democracy movement, and the report aired shortly before his death.
He expressed his grief at the possibility that the report was somehow related to Li’s death, but he nonetheless took comfort in the fact more people came to know the story of this brave man.
Li’s death has also seemed to concentrate the focus for many in Hong Kong on the human rights situation in Mainland China.
In this respect, the events surrounding Bishop Ma and his entanglement in the political wrestling match between Beijing and Rome have provided a similar focus.
Another courageous man has taken a stand against the Chinese government, and people here – members of the press as well as the general public – have taken notice.
That has not been the case with another auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Xing Wenzhi, who faded from public life in early December last year.
The diocese has given no account of his status, and his whereabouts remains a mystery.
Bishop Xing received episcopal ordination in 2005 and soon earned the respect of many Catholics for his firm opposition to the CPA.
Church sources in Shanghai said his resistance displeased government authorities, who used every means at their disposal to prevent him from becoming Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian’s successor.
Bishop Joseph Wu Qinjing of Zhouzhi, central Shaanxi province, was ordained in secret, also in 2005, but has been prevented from assuming the full duties of his office and now lives under house arrest in the Xi’an diocesan minor seminary. His absence ultimately led to the splitting up of the diocese.
Bishop Xing and Bishop Wu, who pursued their studies in the United States, are members of the government-sanctioned “open” Church community, and their defiance of Chinese authorities has led to this fate.
Two other prelates from the “underground” Church have endured a much more difficult fate.
Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding and Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian, both elderly clerics in Hebei province, have been missing for more than a decade.
Numerous other Catholics have also suffered for their faith, but their stories have not been widely told.
As the local and international media continue to follow the story of Bishop Ma, perhaps greater attention will be paid to these other faithful servants of the Universal Church and to ongoing challenges to religious freedom and human rights in China.
Chinese authorities should learn from the response to the death of Li Wangyang and listen to the voice of their people. Bishop Ma and the many other prelates who have been kept from their duties should be allowed to resume their pastoral roles.
Moreover, local and international media should continue to keep these issues in the spotlight and serve one of journalism’s principal goals: to hold leaders to account for their actions.
Liu Ying is the penname of a Hong Kong Catholic journalist
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