Uneven treatment for funerals of two Chinese bishops

Vatican approved prelates died within 24 hours of each other, but how the state reacted couldn't have been more different
Uneven treatment for funerals of two Chinese bishops

Bishops Meng Ningyou of Taiyuan and Wu Junwei of Xinjiang after the requiem Mass behind the coffin of Bishop Li Jiantang on Aug. 17 at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Taiyuan. (Photo supplied)

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
August 18, 2017
The funeral arrangements for two recently deceased Vatican-approved bishops were treated differently by Chinese authorities this week.

The funeral of Bishop Paul Xie Tingzhe of Xinjiang-Urumqi in restive northwestern Xinjiang region was hastily conducted while Catholics could pay their respects to retired Bishop Silvester Li Jiantang of Taiyuan in the open church community of northern Shanxi province for a week.

Bishop Li, who is recognized by the government, died at the age 92 on Aug. 13. On the following day, Bishop Xie of the Xinjiang-Urumqi Apostolic Prefecture, who is recognized by the government only as a priest, passed away at the age of 86. 

Xinjiang authorities ordered that Bishop Xie's funeral be held within two days and required that his ashes following cremation be buried within 30 minutes at the Qidongshan Cemetery, according to Joseph, an underground layman who gave only his baptismal name.

"There are government officials in the funeral committee to control everything," Joseph told ucanews.com. "The arrangement obviously was to cremate the bishop's body immediately to bar Catholics outside Xinjiang coming to pay tribute," he said.


Bishop Paul Xie's coffin laid at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Urumqi city but many Catholics and priests were barred from paying their respects after he died on Aug. 14. (Photo supplied)


The Aug. 16 funeral at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in the regional capital of Urumqi was ordered to be held by only one priest with Father Wang Hong celebrating Mass. Later, a priest named Father Li Zhen presided over the burial rite. Two other priests were not allowed to concelebrate Mass and the other 22 diocesan priests were restricted from leaving their respective parish.

"Such restrictions are rare even among the other underground communities in recent years when all the diocesan priests could concelebrate in the funeral Mass of their bishops," said Joseph.


Bishop Xie: The Chinese prelate who secretly met the pope

Though the government did not recognize his episcopal status, Bishop Xie enjoyed relative freedom of movement inside China before his health deteriorated.

He also managed to secretly travel to the Vatican in 1994 where he became one of the few Chinese bishops to be granted an audience with St. Pope John Paul II, who appointed him as the Apostolic Prefect of Xinjiang-Urumqi Apostolic Prefecture in 1991.

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Bishop Paul Xie of Xinjiang-Urumqi met Pope John Paul II during a secret trip he made to Rome in 1994. (Photo supplied)


Bishop Xie was born March 1, 1931 in Lanzhou, Gansu province that neighbors Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. He entered the seminary in the late 1940s but classes were suspended in 1951 due to political turmoil brought on by the newly ruling Chinese Communist Party.

He and other seminarians were labeled as "rightist" and "lackeys of imperialism" by the communists. For his faith, he was thrown into jail in 1958 and finally released in 1979. It was not until 1980 that he received his priestly ordination.

Bishop Xie was known to have great evangelization zeal and he became an active blogger as early as 2005. He was also known for singing Latin hymns to other Catholics via internet chatrooms.


Bishop Li: A pillar of the Shanxi church

In central Shanxi province, Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou of Taiyuan celebrated the requiem Mass for his predecessor Bishop Li on Aug. 17 at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Taiyuan.  Bishop Peter Wu Junwei of Xinjiang (Yuncheng) from the same province concelebrated the Mass that was attended by some 5,000 laypeople. Following the Mass, Bishop Li's body was moved to his hometown of Dongergou.

Church workers expect more laypeople to attend Bishop Li's funeral which is scheduled for Aug. 19.

Bishop Li was born in 1925. He entered the minor seminary at age 14 and was ordained a priest in 1956. The communists subjected him to reform-through-labor at a textile factory between 1966 and 1980 before he was released to serve in Dongergou parish.

He was made in charge of the cathedral parish in 1991 and rector of the regional Shanxi Seminary in 2000. He was ordained Bishop of Taiyuan in 1994 and retired in 2013.


A portrait of retired Bishop Li Jiantang in front of the hearse used for his funeral. (Photo supplied)


Michael Chang Chuan-sheng, a Taiwanese researcher on the Catholic Church of China, told ucanews.com that Bishop Li was ordained a priest before he graduated from the seminary.

Considering the political situation during the 1950s, the rector chose to ordain Li because he was the oldest in the class, said Chang.

A few months after he was ordained in March 1956, the seminary was disbanded. "He was thus the only priest in his class and became a pillar reviving the church after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76)," Chang said.

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