China hosts first inauguration ceremony for an underground bishop after landmark deal with Vatican

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/1 22:43:40

Pope Francis greets visitors from China as he arrives for his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. File photo: AFP

An inauguration ceremony for Jin Lugang as coadjutor bishop for the diocese of Nanyang, Central China's Henan Province was held in a grand and peaceful manner, the presider said Friday.

The ceremony, the first of this kind for a bishop from underground churches after a landmark bishop appointment agreement was signed between China and the Vatican in September 2018, was hailed as a landmark event for Chinese Catholics.  

The ceremony was held in a "good, grand and holy" atmosphere, and a joyful mood could be felt from the bishops present, Bishop Yang Yongqiang, who presided over the ceremony, told the Global Times on Friday.

Over 250 attended the ceremony at a Catholic church in Nanyang on Thursday, including clergy from Henan and local priests and nuns. 

Bishop Zhang Yinlin, from the diocese of Anyang who also attended the ceremony, told the Global Times on Friday that the ceremony, which openly acknowledges the episcopal role of Bishop Jin, is a "good beginning" for further communion in the diocese.  

Acknowledging Jin would help more Catholics contribute to society, said Yang.

The ceremony also marks the first open inauguration ceremony of an underground bishop after the landmark China-Vatican deal, said Zhang.

During an oath-taking ceremony, Jin swore to assist Zhu Baoyu, the 98-year-old diocesan bishop in Nanyang, to lead the diocese to follow China's Constitution, safeguard national unity and social stability.

Yang, also deputy head of Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), said Jin has a good reputation in the diocese, and as a clergyman, he is very faithful and patriotic.

The rhetoric shows that one of the most important criteria for China to acknowledge future underground bishops is whether they could help the diocese follow such policies aside from being "good Catholics and good citizens," Wang Meixiu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.

China's Catholic community urgently needs to select bishops who are politically reliable and with good ethics and religious knowledge as nearly half of China's Catholic dioceses face bishop vacancies, Ma Yinglin, chairman of the BCCCC, said at a seminar in December 2018.

Following Bishop Zhuang Jianjian from the diocese of Shantou, Guangdong Province, Jin is the second underground bishop acknowledged by both China and the Vatican after they signed a provisional deal on bishops appointment in September 2018.

"Acknowledging the episcopal role of Zhuang and Jin shows the goodwill from the Chinese government, and that the transformation of underground clergy is going smoothly," said Wang. 

The two landmark events will further promote the communion of Chinese Catholics, as more bishops will be acknowledged by both China and the Vatican, Yang predicted. 

Gaining legal status also helps underground clergy better serve local Catholic communities and conduct religious activities within China's legal framework, said Wang.

The biggest challenge for the communion of Chinese Catholics is not about religious beliefs, but the lack of mutual understanding and communication, said Zhang.

Zhang was ordained in 2015 and is believed to be the first bishop recognized by both Beijing and the Holy See since 2012, when consecration of some bishops without the Vatican's approval soured ties.

"The acknowledgement of Jin is expected to clear some conservative understanding from China's underground churches," said Zhang.

Bishop Jin has not replied to a request for an interview from the Global Times as of press time.
Newspaper headline: Underground bishop installed

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