CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 5 July 2014

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End of an era as Shanghai’s controversial bishop mourned

HONG KONG (SE): The controversial bishop from Shanghai, who described himself as both a serpent and a dove, died of cancer in hospital on April 27.

Arguably the most influential member of the Catholic hierarchy in China, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian was 96-years-old and had been hospitalised for several months prior to his death.

In his forward to Bishop Jin’s memoirs, Father Anthony Clark quotes him as saying, “The government thinks I’m too close to the Vatican and the Vatican thinks I’m too close to the government. I am a slippery fish squashed between government control and Vatican demands.”

Born on 20 June 1916, his life spanned an extraordinarily turbulent century. He saw the republican era of 1911 to 1949, the Maoist era, which continued to around 1976, the rise of reformist leader, Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, and then the opening up of the country and the economy to outside influences.

He lived through the war with Japan in the 1930s, the violent lead up to the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, which saw the end of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist government, the Hundred Flowers Movement in 1956, the anti-rightist movement, the Great Leap Forward and consequent famine, the Cultural Revolution and the fall of the Gang of Four.

Although for almost three decades he experienced this turbulence from inside prison walls as a dangerous counter revolutionary, he managed to survive the label of traitor stuck on him by his Jesuit confrères and that of unpatriotic by his own government, coming out the other end to be embraced by both as a good model of each.

Bishop Jin was proud of his Jesuit identity. The address on mail carried to him from his Jesuit confrères would be scrutinised carefully and if the letters SJ appeared after his name he would point to them proudly and say, “They recognise I am a Jesuit.”

Father Clark notes that his memoirs are peppered with the aphorisms that have sustained the Jesuits in their mission over the centuries. Ad Majorem Deo Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God) was one of his favourites.

“The individual complexities… woven through his memoirs, vacillate between political reflection and self-justification, and are all sustained by his abiding confidence in God’s assistance,” Father Clark says of him.

“Jin Luxian has been identified as a politician, protector and prisoner, but he would simply refer to himself as a priest; and in a final word, Jin has always been, and remains, a priest,” he continues.

Released from prison in 1982, the freshly rehabilitated priest was charged by the government with reopening Shanghai’s seminaries, a job that called for balancing government demands with what he knew the Church demanded of him.

In January 1985, he agreed to ordination as a bishop in Shanghai without the permission of the Holy See and then in 1989, a year after the death of fellow Jesuit, Bishop Aloysius Zhang Jiashu, was appointed bishop of the city by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association officials.

At some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s he made his peace with the pope and at the end of his life was recognised as the coadjutor to Bishop Fan Zhongliang, from the unofficial Church community, who is regarded by Rome as the bishop of the diocese.

However, Bishop Fan has been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, leaving Bishop Jin head of the diocese de jure (in fact).

However, Bishop Jin had more to face upon his release from prison than a radically changed China. He suddenly became a priest in a post Vatican II Church, a watershed event which was already almost 15-years-old, and of which he knew little or nothing.

Coupled with the fact that he was virtually cut off from the outside world, the gradual opening up of China brought him an avalanche from a radically changed Church to cope and deal with, as bishop, seminary rector and pastor.

In a tribute, the Hong Kong-born secretary to the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, says, “We can say that Bishop Jin tried to do what was good for the Church, but even his fellow Jesuits often misunderstood his intentions.”

Archbishop Hon continues, “He was a very active pastor. In recent years, he had done a lot for the growth of the Christian community in Shanghai, especially the official one.”

William Hanbury-Tenison, the translator of Bishop Jin’s memoirs, wrote that he was different from his contemporaries.

“Here was a man who demonstrated his spiritual authority in his words, in his actions and through his very considerable achievements,” he reflects.

“Practicing my religion in Shanghai was completely different… foreign Catholics were able to establish their own parish; a vibrant seminary was educating a new generation of deeply committed priests; young people were discovering the religion of their grandparents; the sermons in the local churches were socially relevant and gripping,” he continues.

“Given that activities of the Catholic Church continued to be monitored with obsessive paranoia, it is clear that we Catholics were operating under a protective umbrella established at the highest levels. For this we have Jin to thank,” Hanbury-Tenison writes.

Bishop Jin was a talented politician. He believed that politics is a high form of love and, as such, demands constant purification. He was visited by heads of state, government ministers from many countries of Europe and the United States of America, as well as parts of Asia.

Bishop Jin, like Chinese communism, was born into a country with a long antagonistic relationship with Christianity, evidenced by sayings such as “one more Christian means one less Chinese.” Both were dealing with their inherited history in their own way.

Father Clark concludes, “Jin Luxian’s memoirs are as complex as Jin Luxian himself; they reveal a life of remarkable experiences that were also survived remarkably, and any well-informed historian who is honest enough to his or her sources cannot help but wonder at the enigmatic nature of Jin’s choices, alliances and remarkable longevity.”

The orphaned teenager who joined the Society of Jesus in the 1930s survived some of the most catastrophic and violent events of the 20th century, 27 years of lost liberty and meticulous questioning and cross-examination, only to exit into a world and Church few on the outside could comprehend.

God will be the judge of his life and history his deeds. Without the wisdom of separation of time it suffices to say, he was a member of the Society of Jesus, a simple priest and a bishop.

If he could write his own epitaph, he may say, “I did what I did for the greater glory of God.”

May he rest in peace.

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