UNDERGROUND CATHOLICS FORM NEW DIOCESE OF LANGFANG IN HEBEI PROVINCE

China
1993-04-30 00:00:00

Catholics not affiliated to the government-sanctioned open Church in Hebei province, northern China, reportedly have formed a new diocese led by clandestinely-ordained Bishop Song Weili in Langfang.

The diocese claims to be seeking recognition from the Chinese government, a Catholic source in Hebei told UCA News in March. The diocese would be like an open Church diocese, but its structure would be different, the source said.

The diocese was set up to cope with pastoral needs of underground Catholics in central Hebei, the source said. Langfang, located between Beijing and Tianjin municipalities, is a prefectural city of Hebei erected in 1981.

An official of Hebei Provincial Religious Affairs Bureau in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei, told UCA News April 21, "As a priest, Song´s practice of religious activities in Langfang area is legitimate." The official did not deny or confirm whether Bishop Song has received government recognition.

The Hebei Catholic source said the authorities had recognized the underground prelate as the bishop of Langfang and allowed him to set up the new diocese. According to the source, Langfang diocese will not form any Catholic Patriotic Associations or Church Affairs Administrative Commissions.

However, the source added, the authorities have not yet given formal approval for the diocese not to establish these two bodies. In general, government-recognized Catholic communities have to form the official bodies to manage Church affairs, maintain relations with the government and assist the authorities in implementing official religious policy.

A Hong Kong-based Church in China observer says Bishop Song could be another underground bishop who "surfaces" to work publicly under his episcopate.

Newly formed Langfang diocese includes parts of the dioceses of Beijing, Tianjin and Xianxian, the source said. It encompasses the counties of Baxian, Dachang, Dacheng, Gu´an, Sanhe, Wen´an, Xianhe, Yongqing, and Langfang city.

Bishop Song has set up his diocesan curia in Baxian, and placed all Church affairs under its administration. He has appointed a priest as his auxiliary bishop to head the curia, the source noted.

Three priests serve the 75,000 Catholics in the diocese, the source said, adding that Father Xu Guoxin, parish priest of the cathedral, was arrested in December 1991 and sentenced to three years of labor and re-education.

The diocese has nine major seminarians, 11 minor seminarians, 22 sisters and about 20 novices. The women´s congregation, Sisters of Dedication, has integrated the former Sisters of the Holy Infant of Jesus, the source said.

Langfang has nine churches opened to worship and reportedly is negotiating with the authorities for the return of another 10 churches, the source added.

Bishop Song, who will turn 80 on May 8, was ordained a bishop in 1981 by the late Vatican-appointed Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding. Bishop Song has been arrested several times.

In December 1992, he was taken away by public security officials and released shortly after Christmas, a source told UCA News in February. After his release, the bishop was warned not to preach beyond the Langfang area.

-- According to the "Annuario Pontificio 1992," Hebei comprises the Archdiocese of Beijing, 13 other dioceses -- Anguo, Baoding, Daming, Lulong, Qingxian, Tianjin, Weixian, Xianxian, Xingtai, Xuanhua, Zhaoxian and Zhengding -- and the apostolic prefecture of Yixian. Seven of the 14 episcopal sees have bishops, none of whom are recognized by the government.

The open Church reorganized dioceses in Hebei to correspond to government administrative divisions: Baoding, Handan, Hengshui, Shijiazhuang, Tangshan, Xingtai, Zhangjiakou. The first six are headed by China-appointed bishops.

Anguo, Zhaoxian and Zhengding dioceses were combined to form Shijiazhuang; Daming and Weixian together form Handan; and Yixian merged into Baoding.

Qingxian, Xianxian and Lulong dioceses respectively affiliate, in the open Church of Hebei, to Hengshui, Cangzhou and Tangshan.

The Dioceses of Beijing and Tianjin are not within Hebei´s limits as the two cities were made municipalities directly supervised by the State Council.

Hebei province is estimated to have a Catholic population of more than one million, of whom 80 percent reportedly refuse to join the open Church.

END

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