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Much respected bishop dies

MINDONG (AsiaNews): Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng, from the unofficial Church community of Mindong in Fujian province, died at 11.00am on July 30 at the age of 93.

As a bishop recognised by people from both the official and unofficial communities as being the ordinary bishop of the diocese, he was one of the most significant personalities in the Church in China.

He was hospitalised on May 15, but was able to go back home after a few days. He wanted to die at his home in the curia, and so it was.

Of his 66 years as a priest, Bishop Huang spent 35 of them in prison, under house arrest or in forced labour camps.

Mindong is home to about 90,000 Catholics, more than 80,000 of whom belong to the unofficial Church community, which has some 45 priests, more than 200 sisters, around 300 consecrated lay people and hundreds of catechists.

There is also a government-recognised bishop in Mindong, Bishop Zhan Silu, but his congregation is small with around 12 priests and only a few parishes.

However, all Catholics in the area recognise the late bishop’s greatness and seminarians from the official Church community especially remember him as humble and intelligent, a great pastor.

“Thanks to him, the Church of Mindong was able to grow and renew itself,” one priest said. “His suffering bore fruit for his work. Over the years, hundreds of communities and parishes were created and developed.”

Given the size of the unofficial community, over the years the government has had to come to terms with its community life and activities, including the building of churches, public pilgrimages and even ordinations.

In 2008, Bishop Huang ordained a coadjutor for the diocese, 60-year-old Father Vincent Guo Xijin, who has since taken over the administration of the diocese. Bishop Guo received a papal mandate from Pope Benedict XVI.

Local people told AsiaNews that government officials had already arrived in town to discuss with the priests and the new bishop about arrangements for Bishop Huang’s funeral.

Usually a bishop not recognised by the government is forced to have a simple funeral, with the body dressed as a priest, but without a bishop’s insignia, and only a few people permitted to pay their respects.

However, locals believe that in this case, it is highly likely that there will be no stopping tens of thousands of people coming out to pay their respects to their late pastor.

They also believe that the authorities will not be able to prevent him from being referred to as a bishop during the liturgy, or stop his symbols of office—mitre, pectoral cross and ring—being placed with his body in the coffin.

In the event, authorities allowed people to pay their respects, but drew the line at a mitre, but did permit people to place a floral display in the shape of a mitre at the head of the coffin.

In an effort to keep the peace, Bishop Guo agreed not to wear his symbols of office at the funeral Mass, which was celebrated in Bishop Huang’s cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary at 6.30am on August 2.

It is also anticipated that Bishop Zhan will come to pay his respects, as Bishop Huang had taught him in the seminary.

Bishop Huang was born on 23 July 1923 in Kangcuo, near the city of Fuan (Fujian). In 1935 he entered the minor seminary in Luojiang (Funing) and later went to the major seminary in Fuzhou.

He was ordained a priest on 26 June 1949 along with three other deacons by the apostolic administrator, Bishop Thomas Niu Huiqing.

After a period of teaching at the seminary and as a parish priest, he was arrested by the police in Fuzhou on 12 November 1955, along with three other priests, and spent the next four years in prison and then forced labour camps.

He was released in 1971, but during the Cultural Revolution he was arrested again on 23 December 1972 for writing catechetical books. Sentenced to eight years in prison, he was released in January 1980 and returned to Fuan.

In 1985 he was ordained as the coadjutor bishop of Luoyuan, but was then placed under house arrest.

On 27 July 1990, he was arrested and jailed for the third time, but in August of 1991, the sentence was suspended because of his health.

On 20 August 2005, he took over the diocese of Mindong. On 28 December 2008, he ordained his successor, Bishop Guo, as coadjutor in the diocese.

May he rest in peace.

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