Chinese Bishop Standing By Rome

Amid Struggles, He´s Faithful to Pope

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WANXIAN, China, JAN. 24, 2001 (
.- A Chinese bishop, struggling to run a diocese with a handful of priests and nuns, expressed his fidelity to the Pope in a recent interview.

For the time being, Bishop Joseph Xu Zhixuan has succeeded Bishop Tuan In-min, 92, of Wanxian, who died Jan. 10.

«We want to be, and we are, part of the Catholic Church,» the bishop told the Vatican missionary agency Fides. «We have always been faithful to the Pope in the past, at present, and we will always be so in the future.»

Bishops Tuan and Xu were invited to participate in the 1998 Synod of Bishops for Asia, but the government did not allow them to leave the country.

Bishop Xu, ordained to the episcopate in 1989 by Bishop Tuan, said that the latter´s death has profoundly affected the faithful and civil authorities. «Thousands of Christians attended the Catholic funeral and burial,» he said. «The civil funeral was attended especially by official figures and representatives of the Buddhist and Muslim religions.»

The Wanxian Diocese, west of Sichuan, has 13 official chapels and parishes, with only eight priests, and 14 nuns, who are involved in pastoral care.

«This meager personnel has to take care of at least 50,000 souls,» Bishop Xu said. According to Fides´ estimates, the Catholics of the Diocese of Wanxian number at least 100,000, including the clandestine Christians who are not registered with the state-controlled «patriotic» church.

Bishop Xu said that the diocese´s most urgent problem is to find vocations and form the clergy. «Personnel is needed to form the seminarians, to stimulate aging priests, to administrate the seminary,» he said. «The eight diocesan priests, all very young, must face a very complex social context. Their vocation must be reinforced and their preparation improved.»

«Another great problem,» he said, «is the construction in other locations of the churches that will be submerged by the Three Gorges reservoir, as well as the reconstruction of the communal fabric of the displaced.»

The Three Gorges reservoir, which will be finished in 2009, is to produce energy from the Chang River (formerly translated as the Yangtze). It will be the largest reservoir in the world, and will submerge several cities and villages, as well as the cathedral and five churches.

Over a million people have had to leave their place of birth. The indemnification granted by the government is not sufficient for the displaced to rebuild their life and cultivate new fields. Neither has the diocese received sufficient money to construct new churches.

Bishop Tuan had estimated that reconstruction costs would reach $3.4 million. To date, only one of the eight new churches the diocese must construct, has been built, in Fengije.

Bishop Xu is counting on the help of Christians worldwide to help with the construction of the others. He concludes: «I also need prayers: I am already 84, I am old!»

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