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Fun in the sun or preparation for illicit ordination?

  HARBIN (UCAN): An organised sight-seeing tour billed as a study session by authorities in Beijing for leaders of the official Church in China gathered in the city of Harbin just one week prior to its conclusion in Beijing on August 23.

Jointly organised by the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), two dozen people participated, most of them officials of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church of China.

Participants on the tour were expected to meet with the head of the work department, Du Qinglin, and his deputy, Zhu Weigun, as well as the director of SARA, Wang Zuo’an, on the last day of the tour to conclude the week-long get-together.

An annual event for young and middle-aged bishops, as well as prominent members of the Patriotic Association and the bishops’ conference staff, the makeup of this year’s tour may have special significance, as most of the 16 bishops, handful of priests and laypeople, and one sister on the invitation list had participated in the recent illicit ordinations in Leshan or Shantou.

The tour was by invitation only and sources within the Church in China say the two recently ordained illegitimate bishops, Father Paul Lei Shiyin and Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang, both of whom are vice chairpersons of the Patriotic Association and not recognised by the Holy See, were on the tour.

The sources expressed concern that the authorities are building up to another illicit ordination when they learned the group was gathering in the capital of Heilongjiang province, Harbin, as the proposed new bishop for the diocese, Father Joseph Yue Fu Sheng, has not received a papal mandate and is not expected to get one.

One member of the tour, who asked not to be named, refuted such speculation, describing the jaunt as “a get-together to strengthen the sense of love of country and love of Church among the bishops.”

Accompanied by government officials, the select few spent the last few days visiting tourist spots and historical monuments around the province, including some in the vicinity of Heihe City near the Russian border, another member of the group said.


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