Bishop Of Jinan Remembered For His Witness To Church Development

2008-05-20 00:00:00

Bishop James Zhao Ziping of Jinan, 96, passed away suddenly but peacefully on May 18, Trinity Sunday, in Shandong province.

The prelate died of acute heart disease at around 5 a.m., hours after complaining he felt unwell. He resided at Sacred Heart Cathedral (Hongjialou) in Jinan, the Shandong capital, 380 kilometers south of Beijing.

Father Joachim Zhao Mingzhong, cathedral pastor, told UCA News on May 19 that early the previous morning, the bishop was rushed to the hospital, where doctors diagnosed coronary disease.

"Bishop Zhao died peacefully and quickly, without much pain," he reported. "Just like he often said, he didn´t want to bring trouble to the Church and his faithful when he died." The bishop had asthma and diabetes, but these conditions were under control, Father Zhao said, adding that the prelate had recovered well after a slight cerebral apoplexy in April.

Despite the prelate´s advanced age and frailty, he regularly said the 6 a.m. daily Mass until he died, with a priest who helped him turn the pages of the lectionary, Father Zhao noted.

Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Zhang Xianwang of Jinan, 43, told UCA News that Bishop Zhao´s death came unexpectedly. The diocesan curia has not discussed the transition of leadership, he said, but he added that Bishop Zhao and the diocese´s other elderly prelate, Auxiliary Bishop Samuel Guo Chuanzhen, had entrusted him to handle the diocese´s administration since he was ordained a bishop in 2004.

Bishop Guo, 90, who resides at Immaculate Conception Church, the former cathedral, in Jinan, cannot speak and needs support when walking, after suffering a stroke a few years ago. Both elderly prelates were ordained together in 1988, and all three bishops have Vatican approval.

Bishop Zhao was born into a Catholic family in Manzhuang, 50 kilometers south of Jinan, in 1912 and entered the Hongjialou minor seminary at age 11. He was ordained a priest in 1937, at beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. During that difficult period, he preached in rural areas of Jinan until he was arrested during the political turmoil and repression of religion in the 1950s. He was imprisoned and later sent to a reform-through-labor farm in Manzhuang to feed cattle.

Bishop Zhang recalled Bishop Zhao sharing how from the late 1970s he managed to carry out pastoral work in the vicinity while fulfilling his "pastoral" work on the farm. This lasted until the early 1980s, when the government began allowing religions to revive.

"He bore hardship in evangelization his whole life without complaints. We, the younger generation, should learn from his spirit to work hard regardless of difficult situations," the coadjutor said. He called the late prelate´s life "an almost 100-year faith witness of the local Church´s development."

Thousands of Catholics have paid tribute at the cathedral, where Bishop Zhao´s body has been placed. Nuns and laypeople are taking turns to keep vigil beside the coffin day and night until the funeral on May 22.

Bishop Zhang said he will preside at the funeral Mass, while bishops of other dioceses in Shandong have confirmed their attendance.

Since religious activities revived, Bishop Zhao has made a determined effort to reclaim churches in Jinan diocese, including the Gothic-style Hongjialou cathedral, a city landmark, which was built in 1905 and listed as a national heritage in 2006.

Father Zhao said "local Catholics appreciated the bishop´s wisdom and interpersonal skills" in restoring Church properties through negotiations with government officials.

Before the People´s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Jinan diocese had about 300 churches. It has restored and rebuilt about 80 churches since the 1980s. This year five churches will be reopened in rural areas, Bishop Zhang said, adding that "the rural Catholics need prayer venues to keep their faith."

Another contribution Bishop Zhao made was the development of priestly vocations, Father Zhao said. Around 30 priests have graduated from the diocesan minor and major seminaries, and the first batch of young priests was ordained in 1989.

Jinan diocese currently has 60,000 Catholics with 20 priests and 15 nuns to serve them, as well as Bishops Zhang and Guo. Another 10 priests from the diocese either are studying abroad or serving in other dioceses.


(Accompanying photos available at here)

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