7,000 Attend Bishop Chang's Funeral Despite Intimidation

Last Tribute to a Persecuted Prelate

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HANYANG, China, OCT. 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Authorities in Hubei province undertook an intimidation campaign by phone before giving permission for public funeral rites for «underground» Bishop Peter Chang Bai Ren, according to the AsiaNews agency.

Bishop Chang of Hanyang died Oct. 12 at age 90. His funeral Saturday drew 7,000 faithful.

The Chinese government allows religious practice only with personnel approved by and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association. Hence there are «official» and «underground» communities of the Church; the latter obey the Pope directly.

Bishop Chang’s loyalty to the Pope cost him 24 years of imprisonment and forced labor, as well as surveillance and detentions, following his episcopal consecration in 1986.

The day after the prelate’s death, the eldest priest in Hanyang Diocese, a Father Chen, received a visit from government representatives, who signaled acceptance of a public funeral for the bishop, even though they had never recognized him as such.

However, according to sources of the AsiaNews agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), already before this visit, the Hubei government had contacted all the dioceses and parishes of the province to warn them that participation in Bishop Chang’s funeral was forbidden.

It was only after this intimidation campaign that representatives of the local Religious Affairs Office went to Zhangjiatai, Bishop Chang’s birthplace, to agree about the funeral.

«Fooled»

The faithful of Hanyang felt «fooled» by the government, which orchestrated the whole affair «to save face» in international public opinion, said AsiaNews sources.

Still, at least 7,000 people of the «official» and «underground» communities of the Church went to Zhangjiatai on Saturday to pay their last respects to the bishop.

The funeral rites lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fifteen priests concelebrated at the funeral Mass, among them some from the «official» Church, who became priests thanks to Bishop Chang.

In line with local legislation, the prelate’s remains were cremated. The urn with the ashes will be kept under the altar of the church of Zhangjiatai.

The local government forbade the use of the title «bishop» throughout the ceremony. Only the designations of «priest» and «elderly gentleman» were allowed.

AsiaNews reported: «The leaders of the diocese, however, did not bend to threats and a banner was posted bearing the inscription: Monsignor Peter Chang, unofficial bishop of Hanyang Diocese.» Police monitored the ceremony.

Father Chen in his homily said: «Monsignor Chang was a courageous bishop, faithful to the Pope. He lived his entire life always faithful to the Lord and to the universal Church, without ever letting go of his faith, even in the face of threats from political powers.»

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