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Bishop Ma pops up in Mindong

HONG KONG (SE): Comments doing the rounds on Catholic social media in China over the stood down Bishop Thaddaeus Ma Daqin being invited to celebrate Mass in the cathedral in Mindong on Easter Sunday call it big news, but sad news.

They also describe it as a slap in the face from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association for the Vatican.

The political situation of the Church in Mindong at present makes the presence of Bishop Ma concelebrating with the illicitly ordained Bishop Vincent Zhan Xilu a further aggravation for the majority unofficial community in the area, whose bishop, Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin, was abducted by the authorities at the beginning of Holy Week (see page 5).

Bishop Zhan is the only government-recognised bishop in Mindong, but is a mostly shunned person, with only a handful of priests offering him loyalty and a tiny following among the people, most of whom belong to the unofficial community.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of the government he has done well and is currently the vice chairperson of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

But by formally introducing his guest from Shanghai as Bishop Ma, he has changed the ball game, as in recent days, official government dispatches have only referred to him as Father Ma.

It also came as a surprise as Bishop Ma was stripped of his title shortly after he publicly resigned from the Patriotic Association at his ordination Mass on 7 July 2012—the last public Mass that he had been allowed to celebrate.

A report about the Mass was posted on the website of the Mindong diocese on April 16 (Easter Sunday) reading, “At the beginning of the Mass, Bishop Zhan introduced Bishop Ma from Shanghai to the people and they welcomed him with long applause.”

Although the report was removed shortly after it was posted, it had already spread around the country on social media.

AsiaNews reported that it is now believed that Bishop Guo may have been taken away from Mindong by the authorities because he opposed the hosting of Bishop Ma, as it was intended that he, together with Bishop Zhan would host the renegade bishop from Shanghai, who after years under house arrest is now getting some airing.

An announcement from the Public Security office in Ningde implied that Bishop Guo was not up to speed with his understanding of Church matters in the area and had been taken away to brush up on his learning.

It also implies that he may be away for a long time.

However, the choice of Bishop Zhan as one of the hosts in Bishop Ma’s rehabilitation process is highly significant, as he appears to be on the Vatican outcast list as one of the illicitly ordained bishops whose situation may not be able to be rectified in some way.

He was one of the four ordained as a bishop in January 2000 as a protest against the Vatican choice of October 1, the anniversary of the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, as the feast of the Chinese martyrs.

Bishop Ma, however, was ordained with both Vatican and government approval, but blotted his copy book with his resignation from the Patriotic Association.

Although he was ordained as an auxiliary in Shanghai, he is now the only one in the city, leaving the diocese effectively without a bishop.

The surprise appearance of Bishop Ma at the altar in Mindong cathedral also appears to be a statement from the Patriotic Association to the Vatican that it will make decisions about the acceptability of bishops in China and not the Vatican.

Although recent ordinations of bishops have managed to remain on the side of licit, the Patriotic Association has been tinkering at the edges, inserting its illicitly ordained bishops into the concelebrant line up just to let people know who is running the show.

The Vatican has been calling for government recognition of the more than 30 bishops in the unofficial community, but the government has taken steps that appear to resist any recognition or acceptance of them in the bishops’ conference, simply saying that they cannot be relied on because they are not patriotic.

Taming of the bishops seems to be a complex process

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