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Second cleric death prompts concern

Catholics shocked as another leader dies, priests to get health checks

Second cleric death prompts concern
Father Simon Li Zhigang of Chengdu reporter, Chengdu

June 20, 2011

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The second mainland Chinese Church leader to die young within the last two months passed away June 18 in Chengdu. Father Simon Li Zhigang, 48, the bishop candidate of Chengdu diocese, died of liver cancer. He was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer shortly after the bishop election on May 10. His funeral will be held tomorrow. The news shocked many Catholics across China as it was less than two months after the death of Bishop Francis Lu Shouwang of Yichang, central Hubei province. The 45-year-old prelate, who received his episcopal ordination in 2007, died of acute pancreatitis on April 30. Father Peter Wu Xianliang of Chengdu, who was ordained a priest together with Father Li more than 20 years ago, said Father Li contributed a lot to the diocese’s development, especially visiting all the churches that suffered from serious damage in the 8.0-magnitude Sichuan earthquake in 2008, to check on repair or reconstruction work. Alarmed by Father Li’s illness, Chengdu diocese has arranged for all priests and nuns to have health checkups in late June. “I believe they are generally in good condition, except for some who have irregular meals and rest time due to busy pastoral work,” said Father Wu. A bishop in southern China said bishops and other Church leaders are heavily engaged in secular affairs including attending meetings and social activities, which are a Chinese custom. As well as excessive alcohol consumption, working pressure and psychological stress may induce fatal diseases, he said. Some other priests admitted they have different degrees of health problem. They usually do not have regular work and rest times. Poor diet and lack of exercise affect their health. “Our psychological quality is also not good enough, as our formation in seminaries can hardly meet today’s needs,” said Father Paul Zhang. They hope the sudden deaths of the two middle-aged Church leaders will arouse the awareness of Catholics to care for the physical and psychological health of their pastors. Born in October 1963, Father Li studied at the Sichuan Regional Seminary from 1984-1989. After being ordained in 1991, he served as assistant pastor of Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Chengdu city. From 1996, he served as rector of the seminary until he took charge of diocesan affairs in 2000. Chengdu diocese has been a vacant see since its last bishop died in 1998.
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