ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: April 05, 2019 03:31 AM GMT
A recent image of Bishop Guo Xijin as seen in his residence. (Photo supplied)
A Chinese bishop, asked to step aside by the Vatican for an illicitly ordained bishop, cannot concelebrate Chrism Mass unless he agrees to state policy on the Catholic Church in China.
Bishop Guo Xijin — the former bishop of Mindong — told ucanews.com that it is currently uncertain if he could join the Chrism Mass because the government refuses to acknowledge him.
“The government officials said in clarity that they do not recognize me as a bishop,” Bishop Guo said.
The bishop said he has been told that recognition would only come upon his applying to join the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and its church affairs committee at the provincial level.
“This needs to be done after declaring my acceptance of the policy of ‘an independent, autonomous and self-run church,’” he said. “They said: ‘You are not sincere enough and therefore we cannot recognize your identity.’”
The 59-year-old bishop said he is not considering doing what the officials are pressuring him to do.
Bishop Guo was the Vatican-approved bishop of the underground church in Mindong Diocese which covers the prefecture-level city of Ningde in Fujian province, southeastern China.
Following the Sept. 22, 2018 signing of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement, he was asked to step aside by Vatican officials for state-approved Bishop Zhan Silu who was pardoned by Pope Francis.
Bishop Zhan took the appointment when Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli led a Vatican delegation to Beijing last December.
Bishop Zhan told ucanews.com that a concelebration of the Chrism Mass depends on Bishop Guo, but added that the government makes decisions.
“When Bishop Guo smoothes out his relations with the government, there will be no problem,” he said.
A diocesan bishop usually celebrates the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday. The bishop will bless and consecrate oils for sacramental use with the concelebrating priests.
As a remembrance of Jesus’ constitution of the Sacraments of the Holy Order, all bishops and priests present renew their priestly vows. It's also a sign of communion and solidarity among the clergymen.
Mindong’s underground community
Following the July 30, 2016 death of Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng of Mindong’s underground community, the then-coadjutor Bishop Guo automatically succeeded as the diocesan ordinary.
However, in the following two years, Bishop Guo was unable to celebrate Chrism Masses due to state interference. In 2017, he was taken away by officials from the provincial religious department six days before Holy Thursday. He was released after 20-days of ‘brainwashing’ classes and could only celebrate Chrism Mass after Easter.
State officials planned to take Bishop Guo away again last year but faced resistance from diocesan priests. The officials and the priests reached a compromise which allowed the bishop to participate in the Chrism Mass as long as there were no images posted on social media.
The bishop’s current situation has upset many lay people and priests in the diocese with one woman telling ucanews.com that it’s another example of why the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement “has lost its integrity.”
In his recent interview with ucanews.com, Bishop Guo said he feels constrained in his ministry.
“No one is sure about anything which happens in China. We can only make a small step forward when there is a tiny space available,” the bishop said.
“We are not very optimistic but when we fix our eyes on God, we will find no problem. Whatever God allows, it would have been the best that happens,” he said.