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Underground bishop known for devotion to poor dies

The controversial but much-loved Chinese bishop died at age 74 after suffering a stroke

Underground bishop known for devotion to poor dies

A portrait of deceased retired Bishop Casimir Wang Milu of Tianshui in front of an altar decorated with flowers. (Photo supplied)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
China

February 17, 2017

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Retired Bishop Casimir Wang Milu of Tianshui in China's northwest suffered a stroke and then contracted pneumonia while in hospital where he died at the age of 74 on Feb. 14.

The underground bishop, whose ordination was not recognized by the Chinese government, had been hospitalized since early January and continued to deteriorate since then. His funeral is scheduled for Feb. 18.

"Bishop Casimir Wang's health was much worse than a normal person of his age due to suffering imprisonment in his early years and his frequent travels to mountainous regions to preach," a source who is close to the bishop's family told ucanews.com.

Bishop Casimir Wang was born to a Catholic family on Jan. 24, 1943 in Gangu county in northwestern Gansu province. His two brothers are also underground clergy: Father Wang Ruohan and Bishop John Wang Ruowang of Tianshui. His sister, Wang Tianxing is a nun.

In 1956 he entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Tianshui and was imprisoned for three years during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Bishop Casimir Wang was among the first three bishops ordained secretly in 1981 by Bishop Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding, an influential underground bishop in China.

Since there was strict surveillance by the state on the church at that time, the ordinations happened without prior approval from the Vatican and were deemed illicit according to church law. However, Pope John Paul II granted Chinese Catholics a special faculty that allowed bishops to ordain successors before getting the Vatican's approval during times of persecution.

Bishop Casimir Wang was arrested and imprisoned for his faith in 1984. After his release 10 years later, he preached in different places.

 

The home of retired underground Bishop Casirmir Wang Milu of Tianshui was also used as prayer house on Sundays. An altar was set up in the courtyard for Catholics to pay tribute to the late bishop. (Photo supplied)

 

Asked to retire

The bishop was asked to retire by the Vatican in 2003 because of a series of controversial acts and concerns about his mental health.

"Some of the things he did after his release from prison were unfathomable. He even ordained an eight-year-old child as deacon about 20 years ago," said an underground layman of Tianshui, who identified himself as Peter.

Among the hearsay about the bishop was that he ordained a Buddhist lama and some men who were either married men or who without theology formation as priests.

However, the source close to the bishops' family told a different story. "The late bishop did not ordain the lama but only baptized him as Catholic," he said.

"The bishop encountered the lama and found him very interested in Catholicism after both dialogued about their faiths. The bishop left him some books on the Catholic catechism. When they encountered each other a second time, the lama expressed his hope to convert to Catholicism. So the bishop baptized him," he said.

The source said it was not uncommon for bishops to ordain men without sufficient formation as priests when the church was suffering persecution during the 80s and 90s.

However, the source admitted that Bishop Casimir Wang had accepted problematic men as priests, including some who were dismissed by other dioceses or seminaries and some who were married or had illnesses.

"It has caused much disruption to the diocese's pastoral work and complaints from the clergy. Bishop John Wang, who succeeded him, reported those cases to the Vatican and handled those unqualified priests according to church law," he said.

 

Companion of the poor

Despite his mismanagement, "I never met such a good man who had such love for the people," Peter said.

"There was nothing to criticize about Bishop Casimir Wang's morality. He was a very good parish priest but just not as a bishop," he told ucanews.com.

The source close to the bishop's family also described Bishop Casimir as an "enthusiastic, humble person."

"He evangelized all through the years, traveling to mountainous regions to visit the faithful. Only those friends and Catholics who were close to the bishop knew that he was a real poor man who lived a frugal life, devoted to the poor whom he baptized and offered pastoral care," the source said.

He recalled how once in snowy weather, Bishop Casimir Wang took off his new jacket, bought by a Catholic, and gave it to a poor layman he met and went home in only a shirt. He also helped educate orphans and poor children, the source said.

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