2001-01-11 00:00:00

The last Vatican-appointed bishop in mainland China, who was recognized by the Chinese government, passed away at the age of 92.

Bishop Matthias Duan Yinming of Wanxian died on Jan. 10 at 4:30 a.m. after being hospitalized since last August.

His death marks the end of the line of bishops appointed by Pope Pius XII before the communist takeover of China in October 1949. Since then, the Vatican has not appointed any bishops openly for the mainland.

His funeral will be held on Jan. 15. His body will be cremated and buried in the crematory of the Sacred Heart Church at Longbao, a suburb of Wanxian in central China, vicar general Father Ran Qiliang told UCA News Jan. 11.

Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Xu Zhixuan, 84, has assumed leadership in the diocese which serves tens of thousands of Catholics.

In 1998 both bishops were invited by Pope John Paul II to attend the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia held in the Vatican. However, their application to leave the country was rejected by the Chinese government.

Nevertheless, throughout the synod, two empty seats were reserved for them. Bishop Duan, however, sent a message in Latin to the synod, thanking the pope for inviting them and expressing regret for not being able to show up.

Fluent in Italian, French, English and Latin, Bishop Duan had direct contacts with Pope John Paul through telephone and fax, and they exchanged greetings on each other´s birthday.

On his 50th anniversary of episcopal ordination Oct. 18, 1999, Bishop Duan told UCA News that he might never meet Pope John Paul, and would send a souvenir to the pope --- three wooden combs, a special product of Wanxian - through a Hong Kong delegate to India for the closing of the Asian Synod.

Born Feb. 19, 1908, Bishop Duan was ordained a priest in Rome in 1937 after obtaining a master´s degree in theology at the Pontifical Urban University.

He returned to China the next year and became rector of the major seminary in Wanxian. In June 1949, Pope Pius XII named him bishop of Wanxian. He was ordained in October that year, the month of the communist takeover.

He and the late Cardinal Kung (Gong) Pinmei of Shanghai were among the last batch of mainland Chinese bishops appointed openly by the pope. Since then, other mainland Chinese bishops were ordained without papal mandate or in other restrictive ways.

Due to his canonical status, Bishop Duan was much respected by both "open" and "underground" Catholics in China. He was also recognized by the Chinese government and worked openly in the diocese since the 1970s.

But given his age and ill health, he told UCA News in 1999 that he could do little to help bring about communion in the divided Church of China.

Last September when Cardinal Roger Etchegaray from the Vatican visited China in his personal capacity, he intended to visit Bishop Duan in Wanxian but later canceled the route, reportedly knowing that the bishop was in hospital. Others said the government had barred the bishop from seeing the cardinal.

During his lifetime, Bishop Duan ordained eight bishops, all in the open Church and mostly from Sichuan province. He has also acted as co-ordainer for six bishops. Some underground clerics from other dioceses also requested him for "legitimate" ordination.

Bishop Duan was vice director of the Catholic Church Administrative Commission and vice chairman of the Catholic Patriotic Association, both at Sichuan provincial level. At the national level, he had been the two Catholic bodies´ deputy director and standing committee member.

During World War II, then Father Duan was the military chaplain for the United States Army based at Chongqing.

Between 1954-1966, he was sent to cotton and battery factories. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), he was sent to reform-through-labor 1966-1973 and to learning class until 1979, when he was allowed to return to the Church in Wanxian.

In a letter written to UCA News in 1992, Bishop Duan said, "There is nothing more memorable than ordaining the seven (now eight) bishops." He often humbly said that he had achieved nothing in his decades of ministry and was shameful for not fulfilling the expectation of the Church.


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