Octogenarian Bishop Dies In Eastern China, Leaves Province ´Vacant´

2005-03-18 00:00:00

Bishop Joseph Zhu Huayu of the government-recognized "open" Church diocese of Anhui died Feb. 26 at the age of 86, leaving the Church in China´s Anhui province without a bishop.

Father Joseph Nie Hengyou, who celebrated the Requiem Mass March 1 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Hefei city, the provincial capital, told UCA News March 16 that diocesan priests, nuns and about 50 other Catholics attended the Mass. Hefei is 945 kilometers south of Beijing.

The bishop´s body is yet to be interred and will remain in a funeral parlor until a "suitable burial site is picked," said Father Nie, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Bishop Zhu, who had been hospitalized since 2000, suffered from heart disease, stomach cancer and renal failure but was conscious up to the time of his death, said another priest, Father Joseph Liu Xinhong. He added that priests and nuns serving in Hefei rushed to Bishop Zhu´s bedside during his last hours.

Father Liu, 40, and Father Nie, 42, have been in charge of the bishop´s house and Church affairs since Bishop Zhu´s hospitalization. "We look forward to having a new bishop to lead our Church," Father Liu said.

Before his hospitalization, Bishop Zhu told UCA News in January 2000 that his health was still good and his priests were young, so he was not interested in getting a successor.

In the open Church, the dioceses of Anqing, Bengbu and Wuhu in Anhui were combined into one diocese, Anhui, on July 3, 2001. However, the Holy See still regards the three dioceses as separate.

Bishop Zhu was discharged from the hospital for several days to lead the ceremony and Mass for the amalgamation of the dioceses, Father Liu recalled.

Some local Catholics said then that the amalgamation was needed due to slow Church growth in the area. There were few working priests, they said, as many had become aged and retired while younger ones had left the priesthood.

Today, Anhui diocese has achieved better management of its priests and no one has left the priesthood since the merger in 2001, Father Nie reported. However, he admitted Church development has been sluggish due to a limited budget.

Currently the diocese has about 56,000 Catholics, mainly peasants, and 43 diocesan nuns serving in parishes.

Among the 19 diocesan priests, three are over 80 years old and others are in their 30s and 40s. Seven were ordained priests after the dioceses amalgamated, Father Liu said. One young priest is studying aboard and 11 seminarians are studying in Shanghai, he added.

According to Father Liu, the "underground" Church, which does not recognize government-approved Church structures, is more active in the northern part of the province, with 3,000-4,000 Catholics served by two or three priests.

Bishop Zhu was born in Weixian, Hebei province, in 1918 and entered the seminary in Hebei. After his priestly ordination in 1947, he served in Bengbu diocese as a teacher in a Church-run school and as a parish priest.

He worked in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), returned in 1981 and was ordained Bengbu bishop in 1986. He concurrently administered the dioceses of Anqing and Wuhu from 1997. He then led Anhui diocese from its creation in 2001.

According to the Winter 2004 issue of "Tripod," a quarterly publication of the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong diocese, there were 70 bishops in the open Church in mainland China as of the end of November 2004.

Based on this information, with the death of Bishop Zhu, as well as the deaths of Bishop Teddeus Guo Yingong of Datong on Jan. 4 and Bishop Joseph Shi Hongchen of Tianjin on March 3, the number of bishops in the open Church would now stand at 67.


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