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Chinese bishop afforded state funeral

BEIJING (SE): An outspoken supporter of the Communist Party, the 98-year-old Bishop Anthony Tu Shihua, from the diocese of Puqi in Hebei province, who died on January 4, was afforded the honour of a state funeral at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing on January 10.

The cemetery is the premier resting place for the highest-ranking revolutionary heroes, government officials and individuals who are deemed to have earned the honour due to their significant contribution to the Communist Party and the state.

One of the first to be ordained a bishop without the blessing of the Vatican, Bishop Tu began his career as a bishop in Hanyang in 1959.

But despite the blessing of the newly formed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the opposition of the people to his presence left him destined to spend decades away from his diocese working in Beijing.

At one point the people physically dragged him from the altar in Hanyang and continued to refuse to allow him to celebrate the Eucharist. In addition, they would not attend other functions at which he appeared.

UCAN reported that about 300 people, including family, senior religious affairs officials from Beijing and Church leaders from the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, as well as the Patriotic Association, attended the funeral service.

Liu Yandong, the vice premier of the State Council, and Sun Chunlan, the head of the United Front Work Department which is charged with liaising with religious groups, both sent wreaths for the late bishop, who never received recognition from the Vatican.

“Holding the funeral here shows Bishop Tu enjoyed a very high position in the eyes of the Communist Party. He was regarded as a close friend of the party, which means they were on the same page,” Paul Chen, a Catholic commentator in China, told UCAN.

Chen explained that since the bishop had long since retired, it was appropriate that the most senior party official present was Wang Zuoan, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

The last top official from the Catholic Church to be buried in the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery was Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, from Beijing, in 2007.

Bishop Fu was not recognised by the Vatican either, but was a vice chairperson of the equivalent of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress. He held the rank of a state leader and was buried in the famed cemetery as a state leader.

Bishop Tu was an educated man, author of several articles and a translator of books.

The government sought the services of his intellect and linguistic abilities to re-describe the source of authority for leadership in the Church and in 1980 he wrote an article entitled, Run the Church Independently and Self-Autonomously to Develop the Spirit of the Apostolic Tradition in a magazine he helped put on the printing press, the Catholic Church in China.

Bishop Tu argued that in the first two centuries, bishops were elected by the people and the priests, their authority coming from God and not from Rome, consequently, they governed independently, an ancient tradition in the Church that was being continued in China.

He argued that the bishop and the local Church possess the right of independent self-rule and self-management in line with the apostolic tradition of collective leadership and democratic administration.

Bishop Tu contended that the Roman Church needed to learn about democracy from the Church in China, as it was the Chinese Church and not the Roman Church that is living in fidelity to the instructions of the gospels and the ancient traditions of the universal Church.

While his comments did not carry the vitriol of Bishop Fu, who accused the Church of Rome of aggression against China and taking advantage of the Church in China to do things both against the will of Christ and the interests of the Chinese people, his writings were influential among some priests and a few other bishops.

The refusal of the Vatican from the 1950s onwards to recognise the illicitly ordained bishops in China was listed as a reason for suspicion of Vatican rapprochement when it finally offered an olive branch in later years.

UCAN reported that Liu Yang, a researcher in Beijing, described the death of Bishop Tu as signifying the end of the first era of the 51 bishops who were ordained without papal approval between 1958 and 1963.

A major confrontation erupted between China and the Vatican when Father Dong Guangqing was ordained as bishop of Hankou in 1958, after the Vatican had twice refused to recognise his candidacy.

The Franciscan was reconciled with the pope decades later, but Bishop Tu died before receiving recognition, although it is believed that he was one of the six that Pope Francis is considering for pardon.

He had been visited by a Vatican delegation that was in Beijing around two years ago.

The burial of Bishop Tu as a hero of the Chinese state is a far cry from the burial given to Bishop Peter Zhang Boren, the much loved unofficial bishop of Hanyang, in an obscure village where he had spent many years as an English teacher.

He was eventually ordained as the Vatican-approved bishop clandestinely in 1984 by the unofficial ordinary of neighbouring Hankou, Bishop Liu Zhensheng, but he had been nominated by the Chinese government as the bishop prior to the choice of Bishop Tu.

Bishop Zhang was in prison at the time, but when new bishops were being appointed for the triple cities of Wuhan, which are divided by the Yangtze and Han rivers, Father Zhang was named for Hanyang.

An official told him that even though he was in prison and condemned by the court at the time, “our law is different from capitalist countries, their laws are fixed, dead to words, while ours are mutable.”

He told Father Zhang that if he accepted the offer he would be declared innocent and released immediately.

In 1993, Bishop Zhang moved into the bishop’s residence in Shanghai Street, Hanyang, because Bishop Tu was living in Beijing and Bishop Dong was in Europe.

There were high hopes at the time that if he and the official bishop of Hankou could work together cooperatively, the cause of reunification between the official and unofficial Church communities would be enhanced.

However, due to interference, for which Bishop Zhang mostly blamed Bishop Tu, he moved back to the countryside and returned to his ministry with the faithful people of his Catholic villages.

When he died in 2005, a requiem Mass was celebrated by Father Valentius Chen Dehuai.

As a sign of their respect for the former prisoner of the state who had been banished to the countryside to teach English in the local primary school, local government authorities told the people to go ahead with a public funeral and simply to do what they have to do.

They also brought a wreath to the ceremony bearing the inscription “to an elderly gentleman, Mr. Zhang Boren.”

No state hero and no government recognition of his position as a bishop, but a beloved figure in the local community and treasured pastor, Bishop Zhang will live long in the hearts and minds of the people after the lights of state history on the grave of Bishop Tu have been turned off and his memory consigned to the dust of the archives of the insignificant.

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