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Low key bishop dies

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): Bishop Francis Tong Hui, from the northern area of Shaanxi province, died of illness in his sleep on October 27 at the age of 84.

The former bishop of Yan’an, who had been ill for some years, would have celebrated the 60th anniversary of his ordination as a priest on December 23. He was born in Lintong, Shaanxi.

After becoming a priest in the difficult years of the mid-1950s, he was jailed in March 1965 for 15 years and not freed until January 1980.

Upon his release, he was appointed to minister in several parishes around Xi’an diocese.

In 1993, he became a vicar general in Yan’an diocese under Bishop Wang Zhenye (1991 to 1999). On 19 March 1994, he was ordained as coadjutor for the same diocese, succeeding his predecessor as bishop on April 25.

In 2010, John Baptist Yang Xiaoting was ordained as his coadjutor, but Bishop Tong, who was ill at the time, only made a brief appearance during the liturgy. He retired officially on 25 March 2011.

Yan’an diocese was opened up by the Congregation of Sacred Heart of Mary and the Franciscans. It was named as the apostolic vicariate of Yan’an in 1924.

In 1992, it was declared a full-blown diocese, covering the cities of Yulin and Yan’an. Yan’an was once an important revolutionary base of the Communist Party.

Fifty-two-year-old Bishop Yang told UCAN that a committee to draw up plans for the funeral has been put together. “Everything has to be discussed. The possible day for the funeral, I guess, will be on November 2, All Souls Day,” he said.

Recognised by both the Vatican and the Chinese government, Bishop Tong is the sixth bishop in China to die this year.

The other five are Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin, from Anyang; Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, from Yujiang; Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng, from Mindong; Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, from Wenzhou; and Bishop Anthony Xu Jiwei, from Taizhou.

Bishop Tong had developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s and has not been able to celebrate Mass since 2009.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, described Bishop Tong as a low-profile bishop. “But the priests of Yan’an that I approached, they all have good comments to make about their bishop,” he commented.

An online news report dated 1 September 2016 from Faith Press in China, says the area of Yulin and Yan’an has 46 churches and 73 prayer houses. It is served by 34 priests and 36 sisters with a Catholic population of 70,000.

The diocese is building a 50-metre-tall church, 28 metres across and 60 metres long, reported to be the largest church in northwestern China.

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