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A battle to usurp a memory

SHANGHAI (SE): Always a controversial figure, the late Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian trod a difficult and delicate path in Shanghai, initially as the rector of the newly-reopened Sheshan Seminary and then as an illicitly ordained bishop.

Embraced by some and ostracised by others, he once said, “I try to keep the Vatican happy and I try to keep the government happy, without really succeeding at either.”

Nevertheless, he did succeed in reestablishing Shanghai diocese and putting a public face on the Church in the city and, in the long run, achieved reconciliation with Rome.

But while privately he did not express any love for the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, regarding it more as an irritant that had to be lived with, his own judgement told him that he had to play ball with it for the sake of the development of the Church.

And deal with it he did, to the criticism of some and approbation of others.

But the centennial anniversary of his birth, which fell on June 20 this year, degenerated into a tussle between the Church and government to be the first to describe the late Jesuit bishop’s legacy, with a major seminar day organised in Shanghai being trumped by a command performance put on by the State Administration for Religious Affairs in Beijing.

The Administration of Religions Affairs described Bishop Jin as a pioneer traveller on the road the Church should take; with his legacy characterised by obedience to his predecessors with love for both country and Church.

It stressed this should be the legacy that is studied and embraced, as it claims that it is perfectly in line with the policy outlined by the recent National Conference on Religion chaired by the president of China, Xi Jinping, on April 22 and 23.

But this is not the legacy that many in the Church wish to embrace, as they realise that Bishop Jin lived in extraordinary times and struggled in an environment for which he had no wisdom of precedent to call on.

When the postponed seminar organised by Shanghai diocese, together with the Patriotic Association, the State Administration and the Catholic Intellectuals Association eventually did get off the ground on June 28, it placed the late bishop’s life in a context rather than making judgements on the rights or wrongs of his every act.

In a reflection published by UCAN, Bishop Matthew Hu Xiande, from Ningbo, gave a vastly different perspective than the one presented by the government.

As a seminarian in 1983, he was sent to represent his diocese at a meeting in Beijing, where the dominant ideology being presented was a Church in China independent of the universal Church.

Bishop Hu said that two articles on this topic written by illicitly ordained bishops were being circulated and these had “misled the government into making decisions that violated the objective principle of the Catholic Church.”

The young seminarian made a public objection to the conversation, questioning how the Church could be separated from Rome, causing a rumble in the pews and mumblings about how an upstart like Hu could be allowed to attend such a  gathering.

In the wash up, Bishop Yu Chengcai, who had been asked to do his ordination, quietly told him that he would have to renege on the offer.

“I would have regretted it for my whole life if I had been ordained by him,” Bishop Hu said.

Young Hu then travelled to Shanghai with the hope of meeting the unofficial Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, but met Bishop Jin instead, who offered to take him into Sheshan seminary and ordain him for Ningbo diocese.

And so it was in 1985. Bishop Hu reflects that he was uncomfortable at first, as he knew that Bishop Jin was not recognised by Rome, but he took heart from a visiting priest from Fu Jen University in Taiwan, Father Joseph Lu, who explained that there was no explicit ban on a validly, but illicitly ordained bishop ordaining a priest.

“From this incident I could see… the Church does not separate from the universal Church because of the wishes of a small faction,” Bishop Hu reflects.

Several priests who were ordained by Bishop Jin have told how on the previous evening they would visit Bishop Fan and ask for his blessing.

The bishop knew he could not carry out the ordination, but gave his blessing, which was taken as a tacit approval of an unorthodox act in a far from orthodox situation.

Bishop Hu says that he knows that both Bishop Jin and himself have been criticised for being cheek by jowl with the government, but says, “We are those who have been singled out to receive frequent lessons in patriotism, because we are types the party does not feel confidence in.”

But he points out that in the situation in China, it is exceedingly difficult to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

Bishop Jin was dealt a difficult hand, but he did bequeath a legacy and the Shanghai seminar sought to find a better understanding of it, whereas the government-sponsored meeting in Beijing set out to canonise him as the patron saint of the Patriotic Association, an honour that would surely leave the man who was born just 100 years ago turning in this grave.

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