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Late bishop remembered for formation work


YIBIN (AsiaNews): Bishop John Chen Shizhong, from Yibin in China, died at the age of 96 on December 16 in hospital in his hometown and was buried from his cathedral church on the following day at 8.30am.

A veteran of several years in prison, he was also put to work as a farmer during the Cultural Revolution, but after rehabilitation he resumed relations with the Holy See and became a major force in the formation of priests and sisters.

The 48-year-old coadjutor Bishop Luo Xuegang, who was ordained by Bishop Chen a year ago, succeeds him as the bishop of Yibin. He was the principal celebrant at the requiem Mass for Bishop Chen, who was buried at a church graveyard. Both bishops are recognised by the Holy See and the Chinese government.

A priest from Yibin told AsiaNews that Bishop Chen is well-remembered for his work in the formation of priests and sisters in the whole region.

People from surrounding dioceses in Sichuan came to the Yibin cathedral to pay tribute to the late bishop. They joined in Masses, offered prayers and recited the rosary for the repose of his soul.

Yibin diocese has nine priests, seven sisters, one seminarian and a Catholic population of about 40,000.

Born into a Catholic family in 1917, Bishop Chen entered the minor seminary in Yibin in 1927 and studied philosophy and theology at Annunciation Seminary in 1938. He was ordained a priest in 1947 and served in parishes until he was imprisoned during the 1950s and assigned to a farm between 1966 and 1976 during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1981, he was rehabilitated and returned to Yibin, where he was subsequently ordained as the bishop of diocese on 14 June 1985. He was the eighth bishop of Yibin, but the first Chinese to be placed in that position.

Some years later, he was recognised as a bishop by the Holy See and from 1983 onwards was involved in the preparation for the opening of Southwestern Seminary, based in Chengdu.

In 1988, he became the rector of the regional seminary and began to train sisters in Yibin diocese as well. In 1989, he returned to Yibin.

During his 27-year episcopacy, he ordained more than 40 priests in the five dioceses of Sichuan and took part in the ordination of five bishops, including his coadjutor on November 30 this year.

An illegitimate bishop from Leshan in Sichuan, Father Paul Lei Shiyin, was present at the funeral Mass.


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