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Hidden bishop dies 
in Shanghai

SHANGHAI (Agencies): The hidden bishop of Shanghai, who has been under house arrest for the best part of two decades and widely believed to have been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang sj, died at the age of 96 in his home at 5.58pm on March 16, the Cardinal Kung Foundation reports.

A controversial figure as the head of the unofficial Catholic community in Shanghai and the bishop of the city in the eyes of the Holy See, a Mass was offered for him in his apartment immediately after his death, but UCA News reported that officials confiscated his biretta soon after his passing was reported, as a sign that he had no recognition as a bishop from the government.

His body was removed immediately to a funeral parlour.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation reported that a request to hold his funeral Mass at St. Ignatius Cathedral was turned down by the government, which said it would only allow a Mass to be celebrated in the courtyard at the funeral parlour and that the mourning period would be strictly limited to two days.

However, UCA News said that the concession only came after the administrator said that he would not hold a Mass at all and leave government officials to face the wrath of the people.

Bishop Fan had been clandestinely ordained in 1985 as coadjutor bishop to Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-mei, who was in prison at the time. The government installed Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian sj, without Vatican permission, as bishop of Shanghai in the same year.

Bishop Fan himself was imprisoned in 1955 in Qinghai province just four years after he was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1951, during which time it was his job to carry corpses to the cemetery.

Upon his release in 1979, he taught in a high school for a few years, becoming a bishop after returning to Shanghai. He was later recognised as the bishop of the city by Pope John Paul II.

However, the Cardinal Kung Foundation says that he was never allowed to function by the government and spent the last 20 or so years of his life under house arrest.

UCA News said that Anthony Lam Sui-ki, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, described Bishop Fan as a steadfast and persevering leader, who was well respected in all quarters.

He related that all deacons, from both the official and unofficial communities, went to ask for his blessing prior to their priestly ordinations.

Lam added that since he was the chairperson of the unofficial bishops’ conference, the government should give recognition to the Church as a peaceful body and allow the unofficial bishops to gather to elect a replacement for him.

Shanghai has now been reduced to one living bishop, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, and he is under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary, technically stripped of his episcopal status by the government and barred from operating openly as the bishop.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation has issued an impassioned plea to the Chinese authorities to release Bishop Ma immediately in order that the Catholic people of the city may have a leader and Church ministry can have a focal point.

 

It says that if the authorities were to do so, they would be taking an important step forward in honouring religious freedom, as guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.

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