HANZHONG (AsiaNews): Bishop Matthias Yu Chengxin, the retired coadjutor from Hanzhong in Shaanxi province died on December 7 at the age of 90.
His funeral was celebrated on December 12 in the church at Xiaozhai in the county of Chengguo, the 28th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.
Bishop Yu belonged to the unofficial community of Hanzhong, but it was Bishop Louis Yu Runchen, from the official community in Hanzhong, who presided at the funeral ceremony.
Bishop Matthias Yu was not recognised by the government and for this reason he was buried without title, with the only mention of his true status coming in the homily.
However, the title of bishop was not written on any notice or sign during the funeral Mass, which was concelebrated by 31 priests, or most of the diocese.
Local Catholics told AsiaNews that this silence was not due to any particular pressure from the civil authorities and in his homily, Bishop Luigi Yu referred to the deceased as Bishop Yu.
Bishop Mathias Yu was born into a Catholic family on 27 December 1927. He was the younger brother of Bishop Bartholomew Yu, a former bishop of Hanzhong, who died in 2009.
One of their sisters, Sister Yu Rongjie, is still living. All three of the Yu bishops have or had the approval of the Holy See, but only Bishop Louis Yu is recognised by the government.
Bishop Matthias Yu studied at the Hanzhong seminary from 1950 and entered the regional seminary of Kaifeng in Henan in 1956, but the seminary was closed two years later by the Three Self-Reform Movement.
During the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, he was first subjected to house arrest, but later sent to a forced labour camp for reform through work.
In 1980, after the opening up policy of Deng Xiaoping allowed for the reemergence of religious practice, he was ordained a priest and assigned as a spiritual director and teacher of Latin to the Seminary of St. Joseph in Hanzhong conducted by the unofficial community.
Bishop Matthias Yu is remembered as a jovial person, who toured the parishes on his bicycle in the visitation of his people.
He was ordained a bishop secretly in 1989. A statement read during the funeral service and signed by all the priests of Hanzhong states, “He never exercised his episcopal ministry and never allowed others to call him bishop, nor did he ever appear with the episcopal insignia, in private or in public. He has always considered himself and has always served the Church as a priest.”
Nevertheless, there is still some dispute about his true status, as some say he was an auxiliary bishop and others the coadjutor with right of succession upon the death of his predecessor.
The variety of opinion reflects the difficult history of the diocese, which has long been divided between the official and unofficial communities.
Bishop Matthias Yu was ordained by Bishop Li Zhenrong, from Xianxian, on 12 December 1989, after his brother, Bishop Bartholomew Yu Chengti, the unofficial bishop of Hanzhong, was arrested in November of the same year during a time of heavy repression against the unofficial communities throughout the whole of China.
The authorities had discovered that unofficial bishops had secretly gathered as a bishops’ conference, in what they called the Sanyuan Meeting.
Bishop Anthony Li Duan, who was the official bishop of Xi’an in Shaanxi and recognised by the government, wanted closer relations with Bishop Bartholomew Yu to rebuild communion in the diocese in 2000.
In 2005, shortly before the death of Pope John Paul II, there was a turning point in the life of the diocese of Hanzhong when Bishop Louis Yu asked to be reconciled with the pope and the Holy See.
The funeral Mass for the Polish pope in 2004 then became a ceremony of reconciliation, because for the first time in decades the two bishops from the official and unofficial communities celebrated the Eucharist together.
Until his death, Bishop Bartholomew Yu was the ordinary of the diocese. Then upon his death in 2009, Bishop Louis Yu succeeded him in leading Hanzhong diocese.
AsiaNews was told that at a diocesan meeting Bishop Matthias Yu took the initiative and offered to retire so as not to assert his episcopal status at the expense of communion in the diocese.
But then in 2007, Bishop Matthias Yu was struck down with a stroke that created mobility problems and up until he died, he was paralysed and could not take care of either himself or the diocese.
The declaration read during the funeral service says that Bishop Matthias Yu “knew his abilities and the reality of the diocese well. He offered his sufferings, going against the expectations of some, but fulfilling the will of God.”
In this year of 2017, nine bishops from the Church in China have died. In four of the dioceses concerned, the Chinese government has not yet allowed the ordination of the candidate appointed by the Vatican, or has not recognised the secretly ordained successor.
This is one of the sticking points in the dialogue between China and the Holy See, where it is believed the appointment of bishops is a topic of top priority.