CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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The bishop who was simply disappeared

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): A Mass was offered on the evening of October 11 at St. Andrew’s parish in Tseung Kwan O for the intentions of Bishop James Su Zhimin, who disappeared from his diocese of Baoding in China some 20 years ago and little to nothing has been heard of his situation since.
 
Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung invited the gathering at the Mass organised by the Justice and Peace Commission to pray for the Chinese bishop that he may one day regain his freedom and return to the care of the people whom God has entrusted to him.
 
However, he added the big wonder that has been on people’s minds for some years now is whether he is still alive or not.
 
The bishop of Hong Kong said that we know that the Church has times of difficulty and weakness, but stressed that he believes it regains its strength in times of persecution.
 
‘’We have often heard the saying that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” he said.
 
He encouraged people not to succumb to fear in the face of difficulties, saying that no one lives forever and that in the long run, everything is in the hands of the eternal God.
 
However, he stressed that no matter what the difficulty or block being faced, violence is never a solution and it is never a viable means of voicing opposition.
 
Bishop Yeung said, “The Church particularly emphasises the value of dialogue. We need to rely on a positive faith in God and not give up, even when others refuse the invitation to dialogue with us.”
 
He added, “We cannot abandon our main principles, but mostly minor matters can be left aside for the time being.”
 
Or Yan-yan, a project officer from the commission, described the Mass as an opportunity to remember the disappearance of Bishop Su from Xinji City in Hebei just 20 years ago. He lost his freedom on 8 October 1997.
 
“It is a terrible thing that a person can be disappeared for two decades and it would not be right if the Church itself does not make its voice heard on behalf of its bishop,” Or said.
 
“Even though grand churches have been built over the past two decades, they are only hardware. The essence has not changed, as we can still see the authorities are continuing to take away and detain clergy at their discretion.”
 
Or cited the case of Father Liu Honggen in Baoding, who has been in prison since 2006, the coadjutor Bishop Cui Tai in Xuanhau, who has been missing since August 2014 and 94-year-old Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, from Yixing, who disappeared 14 years ago.
 
She also spoke of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin in Wenzhou, whose freedom of movement and freedom to operate in his diocese has been virtually taken away from him over the past 12 months.
 
“They are real living cases showing us that we really do need to pray for the Church in China,” she added.
 
Eighty-five-year-old Bishop Su had been arrested several times since 1956 and at this stage of his life has spent more than half of it in detention.
 
A new publication in Chinese about Bishop Su was made available in both print and electronic editions (https://issuu.com/christineor/docs/a5_booklet_single) at the Mass.
 
Besides the history of the life of Bishop Su between the 1950s and 1990s, the publication also features impressions of the bishop from local Catholic people and reflections on how he has influenced their faith lives.
 
Or said many people may have a basic profile of Bishop Su and may even be familiar with details of the dates of his ordination, first as a priest and later a bishop.
 
“But I believe it is good for people to also know about his conviction, as there must be something that has given him the strength to hold firm to his faith in the midst of many difficulties,” Or concluded.
 
Baoding is a stronghold of the unofficial Church community in Hebei, the province with the largest Catholic population in China. Estimates put the number at around one million.
 
Bishop Su was ordained as the coadjutor bishop of Baoding in 1993 and succeeded his predecessor in 1995. He and his auxiliary, Bishop Francis An Shuxin, were arrested together two years later in 1997.
 
Bishop An was released in 2006 after 10 years of detention. In 2007, he was appointed as coadjutor bishop, as it was not known where Bishop Su was or much else about his welfare.
 
But in 2009, Bishop An joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which caused a further split in the diocese between the official and unofficial communities.
 
With government permission, Bishop An was installed in 2010 as the bishop of the official community.

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