Subject: SCMP: Mission accomplished for China’s underground Catholic church, says bishop

Unofficial church fought the good fight and upheld the faith but now is a new era between Beijing and the Vatican, says Joseph Wei

South China Morning Post

Mimi Lau
Published: 10:30pm, 24 Sep, 2019

An underground Chinese Catholic bishop has applauded an agreement between Beijing and the Vatican over the appointment of bishops in China, saying the underground Catholic church has completed its mission to uphold the faith and remain loyal to the Pope.

Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of the Qiqihar diocese in Heilongjiang in China’s northeast told the Vatican Insider, an official news outlet, that the underground church “has fought the good fight” and China had entered a new era where all bishops were in communion with the Pope.

The bishop was partly referring to a temporary agreement signed between the Vatican and Beijing in September last year under which Beijing finally recognised the Vatican’s authority over the appointment of bishops. In return, Pope Francis recognised seven excommunicated Chinese bishops who were previously appointed by Beijing without papal approval.

The agreement was hailed as groundbreaking because the Vatican has yet to establish official relations with Beijing. But it also drew criticism from some leaders of the underground church who felt they had been “betrayed”.

Wei, 61, is well respected among Catholics in the mainland’s official and underground churches. He was ordained by the Pope in 1995 but has remained “unrecognised” by Beijing. He has spent four years in forced labour for defending his faith and was arrested on multiple occasions for his loyalty to the Vatican.

His interview with the Vatican Insider came after the Vatican issued a set of “pastoral guidelines” in June when some underground clergy were reluctant to register with the government despite the September agreement.

In the interview, Wei said he had no reservations or doubts about the agreement.

He said he and fellow Catholic priests in the diocese had asked for a “study session” with the local government so they could “better understand [the country’s] religious policies”.

According to Wei, the officials told them that Beijing’s position remained that foreign organisations were not allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of the Chinese Catholic church but the Chinese church shared the Vatican-led Catholic church’s positions on religious matters.

He said that since all bishops were recognised by the Pope, the existence of an “underground church” in China has become moot or meaningless.
“I reiterated that for me, personally speaking, the underground church in China existed to maintain the integrity of [the Catholic] faith,” Wei said. “The meaning of an underground church [to continue to exist] has been lost now because this purpose has been fulfilled.”

Dr Anthony Lam Sui-ki, of the Hong Kong-based Holy Spirit Study Centre, said Wei’s comments reflected his personal faith and should not be seen as an appeal for the underground church in China to follow.

“I think his comment indicates his readiness to put himself in the hands of God including giving up his position [as bishop],” Lam said.

“There is going to be a long transition period for Chinese underground churches adapting to the changes [because of the agreement] since they have been established for more than four decades and they will not disappear overnight.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Mission accomplished for underground church: bishop

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