CHINA – VATICAN
Since 2016 the bishop has been recognized by the Holy See, but not by the government. In the past there have been strong divisions in the diocese. There is a risk of a new stronger rift. The bishop allegedly “betrayed” the priests of the unofficial community. An even greater division.
by Ruowan Cheng
Fuzhou (AsiaNews) – Msgr. Peter Lin Jiashan, 86, was installed this morning as Archbishop of Fuzhou, recognized by the government. Msgr Lin has been recognized by the Holy See as bishop of Fuzhou since 2016, after a conflictual division of the diocese.
Today’s ceremony was presided over by the bishop of Xiamen, Msgr. Giuseppe Cai Bingrui, head of the provincial patriotic association. In the large church of Fanchuanpu, dedicated to the Holy Rosary in Fuzhou, there were a total of 80 people and 50 priests participated. Officially, the reason is that due to the pandemic, it was not possible to accommodate many guests, to avoid gatherings. But some faithful and priests suggest that this happened to avoid conflicts and tensions. At least 50 priests preferred not to participate in the rite.
Msgr Lin had always been part of the unofficial Church, and in the 1980s he had also been sentenced to 10 years of forced labor. For several years – according to some faithful since the early 2000s – he had wanted to formalize his situation with the government, but was held back by the majority of his priests. The archdiocese, perhaps the richest and most numerous in China, has about 300 thousand faithful, 120 priests, over 500 nuns.
The governmental recognition of Msgr. Lin Jiashan will be able to facilitate relations between the Church and the state, but risks deepening the wound between official and underground communities. In the recent past, the community of priests was divided into two groups, one with about 20 priests, who supported Msgr Lin Jiashan; another with about 60 priests, who wanted Fr. Lin Yuntuan.
To try to save the unity of the diocese, in 2007 the Vatican dismissed Msgr. Lin and entrusted the care to an apostolic administrator, Fr. Vincenzo Huang of Mindong, who died in 2016. In that year, putting strong pressure on the Holy See, Bishop Lin tried to make himself recognized by the Pope as an ordinary Archbishop of Fuzhou, even if in 2013 the Holy See wanted to appoint Fr. Lin Yuntuan apostolic administrator. Fr Lin joined in the celebration this morning.
According to some observers, the Holy See, in the desire to smooth relations with China, after the Sino-Vatican Agreement, has now accepted that Msgr. Lin Jiashan is the official Archbishop of Fuzhou. Some of the bishop’s current collaborators are happy with this step because they hope to advance their careers. But all of this is creating even greater division.
Last June, Msgr. Lin Jiashan issued a letter to the faithful urging priests and faithful “to be united in spirit on the path of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual acceptance and unity in Christ, avoiding suspicions, attacks and divisions”.
In the letter, the archbishop states that “a small number of priests who have not signed the government registration, are also [considered] priests of this diocese”.
Since the launch of the new regulations on religious activities, the government demands that every priest join the “independent Church”, love the country, submit to the politics of the Communist Party. After the signing of the Sino-Vatican Agreement, the pressure on priests has grown even greater.
Several priests who did not want to sign membership in the independent Church accuse the bishop of having “betrayed” them: first of all because the priests who have not signed are not “a small number”; secondly, the government is chasing these priests and not allowing them to perform any function.
A Chinese priest from a nearby diocese commented: “Perhaps division is returning to the diocese, as it was years ago. And all because of power.”