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Much revered bishop dies in Yujiang

YUJIANG (AsiaNews): A great warrior and much revered person among Catholics in the Nanchang area, Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, the former bishop of Yujiang, passed away on April 2 at the age of 96.

Bishop Zeng (sometimes spelled Deng) had spent more than two decades in prison for his resistance to joining the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. For his whole life he remained a member of the unofficial, or unregistered, Catholic community and was never recognised by the government as a bishop.

Although he was considered less significant than some other bishops of the unofficial community, he was constantly harassed by the government right up to the day he died.

A report posted on CatholicOnline says he slipped and fell a few days before his death and injured his head.

He was hospitalised, but isolated in a room, as government officials refused to allow him to have visitors.

His funeral was held on April 6.

People came from many parts of China to pay their last respects as his body lay in state in his home of many years.

AsiaNews was told by a local woman that Bishop Zeng had been “a true witness of Christ for his whole life” and that his faith and spiritual poverty had impressed her. She said that she still hopes that the Church in Jiangxi may be able to unite.

Local people said that government officials refused their request for the body to lie in state for eight days to give people time to pay their last respects. They were only allowed four days.

Born in 1920, Bishop Zeng entered a minor seminary at the age of 10. He was ordained a priest in 1949 and clandestinely ordained a bishop in 1988.

During the intervening years, he was arrested several times and spent some 23 years in prison, including a stretch during the Cultural Revolution.

Several reasons were cited for his deprivation of freedom, but a big one was always his refusal to join the Patriotic Association. In 2000, he became a Dominican. He stepped down as bishop of his diocese in 2012.

When Bishop John Li Suguang, from what is now the official diocese in Nanchang, was ordained in 2010, some people from the unofficial community, including three priests, attended the ceremony.

As part of government reorganisation of the Church, Yujiang has become one of five dioceses in Jiangxi incorporated into Nanchang.

However, Bishop Li’s status with the Holy See remains somewhat ambiguous, as in the past, he has participated in illicit ordinations and seems quite willing to obey the orders of the Patriotic Association.

The diocese of Yujiang has a large proportion of priests and people who have never registered with the Patriotic Association. 

Bishop John Peng Weizhao succeeded Bishop Zeng in 2012, initially as apostolic administrator. He was ordained a bishop clandestinely in 2014.

He was arrested shortly afterwards and held until November. Since Bishop Zeng died, he has been kept under strict police surveillance.

Some estimates place the Catholic population of Yujiang diocese at 15,000.

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