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Pragmatic good shepherd of Anyang dead at 91

Anyang (SE): The diocese of Anyang, Weihui, Henan province, announced the death of Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin on May 8, according to a report on AsiaNews on May 9. He was 91-years-old. 

His coadjutor, Bishop Joseph Zhang Yinlin, who was ordained on 4 August 2015 and who is also the first Chinese bishop since 2012 to have the nod from both the Vatican and China, succeeds Bishop Zhang.

UCA News reported Father Li Jisheng, from Anyang, as saying, “The late bishop suffered from diabetes and a heart problem for years. He was rushed to hospital on May 6 after he complained of dizziness.”

The late bishop was much loved and managed to keep faith and union with the pope while also dealing with the government and keeping the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association at bay.

Bishop Thomas Zhang was born into a Catholic family on 23 May 1925. In 1934, he entered the minor seminary in Weihui and then the major seminary in Kaifeng. He was ordained a priest in 1950. 

Deemed a rightist by the communist government he was sentenced to forced labour camps from 1958 to 1966. During the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), he returned home to work as a farmer. 

On 19 October 1981, he was ordained a bishop for the unofficial Church in Anyang by Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, from Zhengding.

In 2004, he was recognised by the government, but not before discussing the choice with the faithful and priests of his diocese. He agreed to being installed as bishop for the official Church only after making it clear that he would not join the Patriotic Association, according to AsiaNews.

Many people described the late bishop as a good shepherd, while comments on the Internet speak of his “deep faith.”

A longtime observer of the Church in China, who maintained contact with Bishop Zhang recounted, “He was a faith-filled and pragmatic bishop; he always tried to do good for his community of faithful. He never got embroiled in theoretical questions about the diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican, but always looked exclusively to evangelisation. He was also a great supporter of new charisms, helping the birth of Christian art in China.”

The Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops issued a message of condolence on May 9 praising Bishop Zhang’s faith and his “support for the leadership of the communist authorities” and expressed hope that his successor would lead the diocese in contributing to the good of society, AsiaNews reported.

UCA News reported that Bishop Zhang is the second bishop to die in 2016 following Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who died on April 2 (Sunday Examiner, May 8), bringing the total number of bishops—active and retired—in China to 110, including active and retired.

The diocese experienced good growth under his leadership, counting 31 priests and 120 religious sisters and 50,000 lay faithful. It also provides medical care to the population, especially ophthalmic, with at least 11 clinics, a hospital and a kindergarten. There is also a catechetical centre and one for spiritual retreats.

Long queues have been forming at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Anyang as people have flocked to honour the late bishop. 

The funeral Mass was scheduled for May 14. 

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