A clandestinely ordained bishop in Tianjin municipality, northern China, was recognized by the Chinese government in May to head the government-approved open Church in the Diocese of Tianjin (Tientsin).
Bishop Shi Hongchen told UCA News June 25 that he must lead a Catholic community divided between the underground and the open Church.
The problem cannot be solved easily, the 64-year-old bishop said, but he hopes the conflict can be removed and cooperation will gradually grow.
Bishop Shi said his affirmative belief in the papal primacy was clearly communicated to the Chinese government before the China-appointment was made.
The government, unlike in the past, no longer prohibits Catholics from maintaining allegiance to the pope and praying for him publicly, he noted.
The bishop said he will lead the diocese according to Church doctrine and will not violate the Christian faith or hinder Church development.
Glorifying God, upholding Church principles, and saving souls are his three goals in life, he stressed.
He fills the episcopate left by China-appointed Bishop Joseph Li Depei of Tianjin, who spent years in Beijing and died there on July 7, 1991.
Bishop Shi was born into a Catholic family in 1928 in Wuqing county, Tianjin. He studied in Tianjin and Beijing and was ordained a priest for Tianjin diocese in 1957.
He worked as a parish priest at "Wanghailou" (Sea Viewing) Church until he was jailed in 1966 when the decade-long Cultural Revolution broke out.
In 1979, as the government implemented its religious policy, he was rehabilitated and freed. He returned to Tianjin, but did not join the open Church, choosing instead to work as a factory laborer in the daytime and serving Catholics at night.
On Aug. 11, 1982, clandestinely ordained Bishop Joseph Li Side of Tianjin privately ordained Shi his auxiliary bishop. Bishop Li Side was detained in December 1989.
In 1984, two years after his episcopal ordination, Bishop Shi retired from the factory and committed himself full time to pastoral work at Wanghailou Church as an open Church parish priest.
His episcopal "installation," was held May 27 at Xikai Cathedral in Tianjin. China-appointed Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide of Jinan and Zhoucun, who heads the open Church´s episcopal conference, Church administrative commission and Catholic patriotic association in China, officiated.
Bishop Zong announced the episcopal recognition when the ceremony began, Bishop Shi recalled. China-appointed bishops Paul Jiang Taoran of Shijiazhuang and Liu Jinghe of Tangshang assisted in the Mass, attended by over 1,000 Catholics.
The newly recognized bishop said he plans to train more Catholic young men to succeed the aging priests who now care for the 100,000 Catholics in his diocese.
His plans include building a minor seminary and a convent near the 123-year-old Wanghailou Church, one of the oldest churches in Tianjin.
A Church-in-China researcher in Hong Kong told UCA News that Tianjin diocese has about 10 priests, including one teaching at the national seminary in Beijing. Also living in the diocese are several married priests who do not administer liturgical services.
Bishop Shi´s installation may help solve some of the problems in the diocese, because he is highly respected by different factions and may be able to encourage collaborations among them, the researcher said.
-- Bishop Joseph Li Side is staying now at a village on the outskirts of Tianjin city, a Catholic source told UCA News.
Shortly after Bishop Joseph Li Side´s return to Xikai Cathedral following an 18-month detention, he was taken to visit churches in Jinan and Qingdao in Shandong province, eastern China, the source said.
His arrest reportedly came during a government crackdown on the Chinese Bishops´ Conference on the Mainland, which the Chinese underground episcopal conference inaugurated in November 1989.