Hong Kong
1993-02-18 00:00:00

Fulfilling the longing of faith, hundreds of Catholics in Tianjin diocese travel long distances and tramp over hills to visit the temporary church of their bishop, who is restricted to a remote village.

Banned from St. Joseph´s Church (Laoxikai Church) in Tianjin city since July 1992, Bishop Joseph Li Side is confined to Liangzhuang village of Ji county, a mountainous area 170 kilometers north of Tianjin, which neighbors Beijing.

Bishop Li, now in his 60s, was secretly ordained bishop of Tianjin in 1982. The Chinese government recognizes his priesthood, but not his episcopacy.

He was arrested on Dec. 9, 1989, for attending the inaugural meeting of the underground episcopal conference in November 1989, at which he had been elected a vice president.

He was jailed until June 1991. Then he returned to St. Joseph´s Church, where the government allowed him to say Mass, Hong Kong sources quoted Tianjin Catholics as saying.

Catholics in Tianjin diocese chose to attend his Masses rather than those officiated by clerics who had joined the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), the sources told UCA News in December 1992.

They said the situation antagonized a CPA priest, and Bishop Li was subsequently denied permission to celebrate Mass publicly. Relations between the laity and the CPA clergy were already strained, the sources recalled, and Bishop Li´s loss of privileges sparked confrontation between the two groups.

On April 5, 1992, several Catholics abruptly rushed to the altar in St. Joseph Church and dragged a priest away from the altar while he was saying Mass, a UCA News source said.

According to the source, a fight ensued in the church compound, after which three people were detained for interrogation for more than 10 days, and Bishop Li was "invited" to assist the investigation and placed under two months´ detention. He was later restricted in Ji county.

Since then, some Catholics have refused to enter St. Joseph´s Church to attend Sunday Mass, but instead recite prayers in front of a pavilion dedicated to Mary outside the church, according to the Hong Kong Catholic sources. Catholics from other parishes in Tianjin also visit Bishop Li in Liangzhuang village and attend Mass there.

On Aug. 1, 1992, about 600 Catholics from Tianjin city and rural villages gathered at Bishop Li´s temporary church to celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary (Aug. 15), Tianjin Catholic sources said.

No transportation reaches the village, so people had to walk on rugged paths for 20 kilometers from the township of Ji county to the village. They queued up at the hillside and prayed the Stations of the Cross on their ascent to the bishop´s "hilltop cathedral."

One source described the scene as like the lost sheep returning to their shepherd. Catholics knelt down and asked for a blessing when they saw the bishop waiting at the front door of the church.

Bishop Li praised them for maintaining loyalty to the Universal Church and was visibly moved to see them tramping rugged hill paths in order to profess allegiance to the pope and his bishops, the sources said.

He also thanked them for their daily prayers and novena for the recovery of Pope John Paul II when he was hospitalized last summer, the sources added.

Tianjin diocese has two other prelates, Bishops Shi Hongzhen and Shi Hongchen, both clandestinely ordained as auxiliary bishops of Bishop Li.

Bishop Shi Hongzhen is now receiving medical care in Beijing, the Tianjin sources said. Since May 1991, Bishop Shi Hongchen has been recognized by the government to head Tianjin diocese, which has 100,000 Catholics.


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