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Shanghai cathedral reopens without bishop

SHANGHAI (AsiaNews): St Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai was reopened on December 16 more than two years after it was shuttered up for major renovation.
The century-old cathedral was suffering from serious leakage and flaking of the ceiling that was considered a safety issue. The renovation project has kept the original structure of the cathedral, which was named a national monument by the State Council in 2013.
A dedication Mass was celebrated at 9.00am by Father Wu Jianlin, the dean of the local downtown area. He was joined by about 50 local and visiting priests.
The church was packed with more than 2,000 people and some arriving three hours ahead of time. 
After the Mass, everyone received a gift pack that included a statue of St. Ignatius made from purple clay, a pair of rosary beads and a carry bag with a prominent depiction of the cathedral on it.
About a month before the reopening, a few people wondered whether the birdcage Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest since his ordination in 2012, would be the main celebrant at the Mass, as this would be a sign that he could finally carry out his ministry as the leader of the diocese.
In June 2016, Bishop Ma shocked Catholic people across China when he published an article repenting over his decision to quit the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Then, three months later he was re-admitted to the Patriotic Association and now holds two positions, although not senior ones.
On Easter Sunday last year, he shocked the people again when he went to Mindong to concelebrate Mass with Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, an illicitly ordained bishop who is not recognised by the Holy See.
The concelebration was deemed to be a reconciling gesture, as with a bit of fancy liturgical footwork Bishop Ma had avoided Bishop Zhan at the laying on of hands at his ordination ceremony.
In calling Bishop Ma a bishop at the Mass in Mindong, many believed that his rehabilitation process may have been well underway. But he did not attend either the ordination for four priests at his cathedral in August or the dedication Mass on December 16.
But at around 11:00am on December 16, Bishop Ma posted a message on his WeChat feed commenting, “The temperature on the hill is always two to three degrees Celsius lower than in the city,” implying that he was at the suburban Sheshan Seminary.
“Bishop Ma did not get any reward for compromising himself. No matter how he expresses his remorse, he is abandoned,” a blogger, Hui Taiyang, commented; whereas a Shanghai person who asked not to be named told AsiaNews, “It is still too early to talk about Ma resuming his episcopal ministry.”
Built in 1905, the Neo-Gothic Catholic cathedral was designed by a British architect and built with funds from French businessmen. It was completed in 1910 and is the largest Catholic church in Shanghai, seating some 3,000 people.
The Shanghai Daily reported that renowned architect, Liang Sicheng (1901 to 1972), chose the Xujiahui cathedral among others when he was commissioned by the Kuomintang government to identify architecture worthy of preservation in 1945.
But during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976), the tops of the two bell towers, the cross and the stained glass were all destroyed. The stately cathedral was later used as warehouse by a fruit company and fell into disrepair.
The building was returned to the diocese in 1979 and has been renovated twice, once in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
The latest restoration was “a thorough repair inside and outside, as the church hasn’t had any large-scale restoration since 1982 and the roof leaks seriously,” Chen Zhongwei, the chief architect of the project, told the Shanghai Daily.
A big challenge was the lack of old photographs of the cathedral and only a few blue prints have survived. But Chen did discover an original 1906 layout drawing in the local Christian archives.

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