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Highs and lows at opening of Jubilee of Mercy in China

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): China had a mixed experience over the weekend designated by Pope Francis for the opening of the Holy Door at cathedrals across the world, with the most spectacular and unusual taking place among the unofficial community in Zhending, a diocese in Hebei headed by Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, who is not recognised by the government.

Despite being held under house arrest with a constant police guard, Bishop Jia travelled freely from his home to the cathedral, which is also under constant police watch, where about 10,000 people had gathered on the morning of December 13 to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy and open the Holy Door of the church.

A sister commented, “It is amazing that so many people could gather for so long and no one was arrested. It is likely that there were plainclothes police mingling with the crowd, but nothing happened.”

Bishop Jia, who has long been under pressure to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, has endured frequent reeducation courses and often refused gifts of money, led a three-and-a-half-hour liturgy, without any interference from the authorities.

The unofficial community has long been under pressure in Hebei to throw its lot in with the Patriotic Association and been charged with engaging in unlawful religious activities, which has seen priests do time in prison and placed under constant watch.

Bishop Jia has been confined to his home for years, but gives shelter to around 200 abandoned children and people with disabilities. Local people say that despite the constant police surveillance, he seems to be liked by the police and is certainly popular in the wider community.

However, many unofficial communities simply do not have a church building and, consequently, do not have a door to open. 

Instead many gathered to reflect on the pope’s instructions for the Jubilee of Mercy and some made plans to build a door anywhere they can in order to have the ceremony at a later date.

At cathedrals where the local bishop was ordained illicitly and does not have a mandate from the Holy See, ceremonies took place, but often the Holy Doors were festooned with slogans glorifying socialism and praising the local government and the Patriotic Association for their support of the Church.

In Beijing, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Joseph Li Shan opened the door of the church and inaugurated the Jubilee of Mercy on December 12, saying, “We are grateful to God for the opening of the Holy Door on December 8 at which Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee of Mercy.”

He continued, saying, “The Holy Father has opened the Doors of Mercy of the Lord for all of us, because the pope constantly gazes at Jesus and his merciful image. We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of the Mercy of the Lord, which is the wellspring of all joy, calm and peace for us.”

However, the story in Shanghai is bleak. There was no opening of the Holy Door at St. Ignatius’ Cathedral, partly because the building is undergoing repair, but mostly because Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin is still under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary and forbidden by the government to function as a bishop or carry out any public ministry.

In addition, the bishop, who constantly keeps in touch with his diocese through his Weibo (Twitter) blog, has not updated it since the Jubilee of Mercy began in Rome on December 8.

Nevertheless, there has not been a complete block on the Jubilee of Mercy in the press, with mainstream media giving some coverage to the Holy Year in Rome in the midst of reports on security problems and terrorism threats.

Space was also allocated to the lightshow at the Vatican, which threw images inspired by the creation story onto the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. 

The event, which ran under the title, Fiat Lux (Let there be light): Enlighten our common home, was partially sponsored by Hong Kong property magnate, Li Ka-shing.

In Xi’an, Sha’anxi province, Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan distributed copies of the papal bull inspiring the Jubilee Year. 

However, the cathedral in the city is also undergoing repair and the opening of the Holy Door has been postponed to a future date, but plans for other activities during the year are underway.

In another part of Sha’anxi, Bishop Martin Wu Qinjing, who was ordained clandestinely 10 years ago, but was recently recognised by the government and released from house arrest, led a gathering of 5,000 people on December 8.

Bishop John Li Suguang, from Nanchang, also opened the door to his cathedral on December 8, explaining the meaning of the Jubilee of Mercy logo and urging his people to pay attention to what he called the sheep who are lost.

The diocese has also organised volunteers to offer assistance to people in need and will present a list of its activities at the closing ceremony of the year.


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