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Remember not his foibles but his greatness

BEIJING (SE): The sad circumstances of the death of Bishop Casimir Wang Milu on February 14 that saw his bishop-brother denied the opportunity to officiate at his funeral and opportunistic rumours spreading on social media, has left the life of this zealous and hardworking pastor under a mysterious cloud.

Claims that he was a secret cardinal, had ordained a young boy, a Buddhist lama and a married man, as well as others who were ill-prepared for priesthood abounded, but long-time acquaintance and great admirer, 53-year-old Father Peng Jian, from Handan, was moved to put pen to paper and post his reflection on the AsiaNews website.

Bishop Wang came from the unofficial Church community in Tianshui in Hebei. Father Peng said that he first heard his name when he was in the seminary as one of the first of three bishops to be ordained without an explicit mandate from the Vatican by the farsighted Bishop Joseph Fan Xueyan, from Baoding, during the turmoil of the post Cultural Revolution era in 1981.

It was a radical and brave step for all four men, but as leaders of a Church under persecution and with little or no freedom or means of communication, they believed the situation was critical.

Pope John Paul II blessed their judgement and granted China a special faculty; to first ordain and then notify. Around 80 bishops were ordained under this privilege.

In 1984, Bishop Wang was arrested and jailed for 10 years over his involvement in the secret ordinations of bishops, but after his release, Father Peng says that he showed his great qualities as a pastor and a deeply compassionate human being.

Father Peng said that he had come to admire him greatly from a distance, so in 1996, when he had the opportunity to meet him in Beijing, he was delighted.

Describing him as short of stature, with glasses, he says that he was full of energy, but the long years in prison had taken their toll and he looked much older than his 50 years.

Father Peng said that he was deeply touched when the bishop asked him to read and give an opinion on a pastoral letter he was writing to mark the 60th anniversary of the ordination of the first group of Chinese bishops in 1926.

Father Peng added that the deep interest he showed in his own work in Shandong also touched him, leaving him with the feeling of talking with an older brother.

Although Father Peng was destined never to meet with the bishop again, he said that he received a call from him one day wanting a copy of a book that he had written.

Father Peng is the author of Understanding the Christian Faith and says one of the great pleasures of his life was to make a gift of the book to the bishop he so much admired.

To return the favour, The Nestorian Church in China arrived at his home one day, courtesy of Bishop Wang.

But Father Peng said that there was chemistry in their communication, as although Bishop Wang spoke in a dialect he could only understand a little of, he felt comfortable and appreciated when he listened to him and was saddened when he was unable to accept an invitation to come and lecture in his diocese.

“He shared everything with me, including about his episcopal ordinations. For this reason, I can write these lines about him. He also confirmed the ordinations of Fan Zhongliang in Shanghai; Meng Ziwen in Nanning; and Hu Daguo, as bishop of Shiqian,” Father Peng says.

He adds that early this year when Bishop Wang was ill, he felt guilt when he was unable to contribute to his medical costs, but even after the death of the bishop he greatly admired, he was again touched when the family asked him to write an obituary.

“Undeniably it is important to say that Bishop Wang made a great contribution to the Church in China at a time of very special historical circumstance, even though in some respects he was not able to do as well as he might have,” Father Peng writes in his words of farewell.

“Given the special historical context in which Bishop Wang Milu lived, we should not put all the blame on him. Bishop Fan Xueyan, from Baoding, also made mistakes, like ordaining a man who was married without checking, and yet, we cannot deny his testimony of faith and contribution to the Church in China,” he notes.

“Similarly, we cannot deny the contribution Bishop Wang Milu himself made to the Church. A Chinese proverb says, ‘The dead person is great; a statue for the deceased.’ We cannot forget that he was jailed for 13 years because of his testimony of faith,” he concludes.

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