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China’s first episcopal elections since Sino-Vatican deal

HONG KONG (UCAN): In the first round of episcopal elections since the signing of the Vatican-China provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops last September, a was coadjutor bishop elected for the Diocese of Hanzhong in Shaanxi province, and a bishop chosen for the Diocese of Jining, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous .
Forty-four-year-old Father Stephen Xu Hongwei was elected as coadjutor for Hanzhong on April 11, while Father Anthony Yao Shun, the former vicar general of Jining, was elected bishop on April 9.
Most of the diocesan clergy of Hangzhong, including Bishop Aloysius Yu Runshen, voted, although one was out of town and two were blocked by the government.
 “The authorities told the voters beforehand that ‘there is only one candidate. You have to vote for him, otherwise missionary work for the diocese will be banned’,” a local Catholic, who called himself Peter, said.
He said about 100 police and government officers were at the election venue.
“This election was under pressure. By government arrangement, the clergy were escorted to the hotel where the election took place and fully monitored until the end of the election,” Peter said.
Bishop Anthony Dang Mingyan of Xi’an, chaired the procedures and Father Yang Yu, spokesperson of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, also attended.
John, another local source, called the election a formality because Father Xu had already been appointed by the pope before the China-Vatican agreement.
Father Xu obtained his masters degree in theology in Rome and served in Canada. Peter praised him as being “knowledgeable and brave.”
Hanzhong has more than 9,000 Catholics, 24 priests and eight religious sisters. A Church source said the 85-year-old Bishop Yu had told the government that he has no plans to retire yet.
In Jining, a local church source, who called himself as Joseph, said Father Yao was the only candidate in the election which it was officiated by Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu of Hohhot, a vice-chairperson of the the region’s CCPA.
He said that the proceedings took place in a hotel conference room with only Church members while United Front Work Department members waited outside for the result.
The episcopal see has been vacant since the death at the age of 90 of Bishop John Liu Shigong in 2017. Joseph said the election of a bishop was necessary for the diocese, which has around 70,000 faithful led by 31 priests and 12 religious sisters.
Father Yao, who is in his 50s, studied in the United States for his master’s degree in liturgy. He was appointed by the pope prior the provisional agreement some years ago, Joseph said.
A Church observer, who requested anonymity, said that the Vatican had already approved many bishop-candidates, so the elections are meaningless. The practice existed before the agreement, he added.

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