China: underground Bishop of Wenzhou dies

Yueqing, Wenzhou

Yueqing, Wenzhou

Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou died at the age of 91 on Sunday, 4 October, the 17th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, which the Chinese government did not recognize. The Vatican-approved bishop was transferred from a hospital in Wenzhou to Qiligan church in Yueqing, 45 kilometres away, shortly before he died that evening.

Church sources told UCA News the funeral is scheduled for 10 October in Qiligang church.

The church, located away from the centre of Yueqing and administered by the diocese's "open" Church community, was designated for the funeral “under an arrangement of the local government,” the sources said.

The situation in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, has been tense since the ailing bishop’s health took a critical turn for the worse in late September. A Wenzhou-based Catholic website was closed down after it published the bishop’s obituary and photos of his last days. The site included tributes from Catholics in various provinces around the country.

Government officials had feared social instability if the bishop died on or before 1 October, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and crowds of Catholics gathered, especially from the underground community.

Some living outside Zhejiang had indicated they would return home for the funeral if he died.

Bishop Lin’s relatives and followers hoped to hold a funeral befitting a bishop’s status, in the biggest church in Yueqing, but government officials opposed that, they said.

About 120,000 Catholics come from Wenzhou. They live and do business in various parts of China.

Since Pope Benedict XVI issued his letter to Catholics in China in 2007, the 19 open clergy and 18 underground clergy of Wenzhou diocese have striven to reconcile and reach communion.

Father Vincent Zhu Weifang, vicar general for the open Church community, heads the
funeral committee and Father Peter Shao Zhumin, vicar general for the underground
community, is deputy.

Father Shao, 46, told UCA News that Bishop Lin was gentle, kindhearted and “never made decisions in a rush.” When Bishop Lin disagreed with certain ideas, "he usually remained silent but smiled," the priest recalled. "Then we understood and sought his opinion."

Born on 19 October 1918 in Yueqing, the future bishop entered Ningbo (Ningpo) diocese's St Vincent Seminary in 1931. He was ordained priest on 3 June, 1944, and entered Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing three months later.

After he graduated in 1948, he returned to Ningbo diocese for pastoral work and also served as the principal of a Church-run secondary school until 1955. He was named by Bishop Andre-Jean-Francois Defebvre of Ningbo as one of the diocesan administrators during the political turmoil in the 1950s.

However, he was arrested in 1955 for "counter-revolutionary crimes" and was sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment and hard labour. He worked as a cobbler and resumed his pastoral ministry in 1971 after his release. From 1978 he administered pastoral work in Yueqing and helped restore old churches and build new ones in the diocese.

He was clandestinely ordained on 4 October1992, as the first bishop of Wenzhou, which the Vatican had formally created from Ningbo in 1949, and the local Church developed rapidly under his leadership. He was forced into hiding to escape arrest in 1998 but was discovered the following year and detained.

Bishop Lin had been under house arrest in Church premises in Wenzhou while in and out of hospital for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease since 2000. He had been hospitalized as his condition worsened from 2005 onwards.

Public security officers had imposed strict surveillance then “and even after he died,” Church sources said.

Source: UCAN

Tags: Bishop James Lin Xili, Wenzhou

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