30 March 2023, The Tablet

Chinese bishop urges clergy to join state-approved Church

Bishop Joseph Han Zhi-hai of Lanzhou appealed to the bishops “to take courage, to be recognised by the political authorities”.

Chinese bishop urges clergy to join state-approved Church

The leadership of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association meets Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee in 2016.

A Chinese bishop, recognised by both the Chinese government and the Vatican, has called for all Catholic clergy in China to register with the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China to end the division between the state-sanctioned and underground Churches.

“What hurts and torments us the most are the situations of disunity and heartbreak between brothers,” said Bishop Joseph Han Zhi-hai of Lanzhou in the province of Gansu in north-central China.

Han appealed to the bishops “to take courage, to be recognised by the political authorities, to accept the laws of the state and thus live openly in full communion with the Universal Church, even in the context of their particular condition”.

He said: “We must respect the law of our country and carry out our apostolic work of proclaiming the Gospel within the framework of the legislation in force in our country.”

Bishop Han expressed his views in a letter to the Fides news agency.

He was ordained with a Vatican mandate in 2003, but in 2017 he sought and obtained recognition from Chinese officials. Han regretted tensions among the bishops over this.

During his installation as state-approved bishop in 2017, he recalled that an official “celebration was organised in the diocese but some brothers did not accept it and there was still no path of reconciliation”.

His predecessor in Lanzhou, Bishop Philip Yang Libai, was a key figure in the underground Church and was imprisoned for three decades. He had repeatedly refused to join the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Tensions remain, despite the 2018 China-Vatican deal, which was renewed in 2020 and 2022.

Since the agreement was signed, six bishops have been ordained in China with both state and Vatican approval, and the Vatican has recognised several bishops who were ordained “illicitly” without a papal mandate. Reports say about 40 dioceses remain without a bishop.

Meanwhile, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, officials have asked parents of children in kindergartens to sign a pledge, distributed on 20 March, denouncing religious beliefs.

Parents were asked to undertake not to hold any religious belief, participate in any religious activities, and “not propagate and disseminate religion in any locations”. The city is home to around 150,000 Catholics.

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