1995-05-02 00:00:00

Clandestinely ordained Bishop Paul Fan Yufei of Zhouzhi, Shaanxi province, died of a sudden heart attack April 5 at 65, an age regarded as young among Chinese bishops, who are mostly in their 70s.

Father Yang Guangyan, chancellor of Zhouzhi diocese, told UCA News April 27 that the bishop died suddenly, leaving the diocese no successor. The diocese is now led by its vicar, Father Wu, in his 70s.

The late bishop, who had suffered heart problems, died in a hospital at 12:30 p.m. The sacramental last rites were administered.

Li Boyi, a Xi´an official of the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association of Shaanxi Province, said that China-appointed Bishop Anthony Li Du´an of Xi´an rushed to the hospital but arrived after Bishop Fan died.

Bishop Li officiated at a requiem Mass at Dayingxi village, Bishop Fan´s place of birth and burial, but left before the burial, because he had to prepare for Holy Week celebrations in Xi´an, Li Boyi told UCA News.

Bishop Fan´s body was buried April 11, seven days after his death, a Chinese Catholic custom, inside Dayingxi village church, in Jiangzhang township, Fufeng county, Shaanxi province, southwestern China.

About 4,000 Catholics attended the funeral, Father Yan said. Each of the 31 priests of the diocese offered three Masses for the late bishop, he added.

Zhouzhi has 50,000 Catholics and more than 100 nuns, mostly peasants in poor mountainous areas whose faith was passed down from ancestors. Many, like Bishop Fan, have refused to compromise with the government on Church matters.

Bishop Fan was clandestinely ordained a priest May 29, 1979, and a bishop Jan. 25, 1982, by the late Bishop Zhou Weidao.

The government refused to recognize his episcopacy but acknowledged him as a priest. Yet Bishop Fan worked openly as a bishop, Li Boyi said.

Amid mass arrests of Catholics in Shaanxi in 1992, Bishop Fan was reportedly brought away after Easter and kept under house arrest for several months to "learn communist thought" at a place of "green hills and clear water."

During his detention, government officials misled him into believing Zhouzhi diocese no longer existed, having been divided and integrated into the three neighboring dioceses of Baoji (Fengxiang), Sanyuan and Xi´an.

Believing himself no longer the head of Zhouzhi diocese, Bishop Fan signed a document that forbade him from blessing the oil for catechumens and ordaining priests, and he had to demote priests he had ordained to serve as deacons.

Twenty priests he ordained in 1991 have refused to work in the open Church.

Government officials spread copies of the statement among the Catholics of Zhouzhi, hoping to discredit Bishop Fan. But on his release in September 1992, he realized the diocese had not changed been at all.

He openly and angrily defied the statement, declaring it was signed at a time he "was not free." His flock trusted and supported him, sources said.

An obituary on Bishop Fan issued by Zhouzhi cathedral said Bishop Fan "can live joyfully in eternity and will suffer no more."

The late bishop was born into a Catholic family July 26, 1931, and entered St. John´s minor seminary in Puji, Wugong, when he was 13. He later studied theology and philosophy at Fengxiang and Xi´an seminaries.

In 1958, when the seminaries were closed, he went home, but continued to pursue the priesthood.

As bishop, despite hardships, he led Catholics to raise funds to restore churches and prudently trained priests for the diocese, the obituary said. He served industriously in the diocese, it continued.

Many times he was ill, but he steadfastly visited parishes, encouraged his priests to be good pastors and continued to hold annual retreats for priests to enrich their spiritual growth, the obituary noted.

Under his leadership, priests and laypeople offered their devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who always blesses the diocese, it said.


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