HOHHOT, China, APRIL 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A bishop was ordained Sunday for a Chinese diocese that has been waiting five years for the approval from both Church and state authorities.
Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu, 47, was ordained by three prelates in communion with and officially recognized by Rome, while thousands of faithful gathered to witness, reported Eglises d’Asie, agency of the foreign missions of Paris.
The prelate will lead the Diocese of Hohhot, in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China.
The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was brimming with faithful for the occasion. Some 500 Catholics with admission tickets gained entrance to the building, while 2,000 others gathered in front of the church.
Some 80 priests from five dioceses of Inner Mongolia, the majority of whom studied with Father Paul Meng or had been his students, concelebrated the ordination Mass.
Bishop Paul Pei Junmin of Shenyang, in Liaoning, consecrated the new bishop, assisted by Bishop John Liu Shigong of Jining and Bishop Matthias Du Jiang of Bameng, both in Inner Mongolia.
Also on the altar was Bishop Joseph Li Jing of Ningxia, who preached the three-day retreat made by Father Paul Meng before his ordination. The four bishops are all in communion with Rome.
Bishop Meng succeeds Bishop John Baptist Wang Xixian, who died at age 79 in May of 2005.
As is tradition in that country, a month later, in June of 2005, Father Meng was elected to be the new bishop of Hohhot, but the acceptance of this candidature, both by Rome as well as Beijing, took some time.
As the new bishop explained to UCA News Monday, he foresaw the delay in the acceptance of his appointment, despite the fact it was approved by the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
In his opinion, the 2008 Olympic Games, after the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the regime last year, made state authorities in Beijing unwilling to discuss the episcopal ordination.
Finally, the obstacles surmounted, Bishop Meng received recognition from both Rome and Beijing.
In Inner Mongolia, which was evangelized in the 18th century, particularly by Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hohhot is a relatively important diocese. At present it has 21 priests and 65,000 faithful.
After five years without a bishop, the diocese lacks direction. Bishop Meng told UCA News, “I will dedicate myself to reconstruct the diocesan structures so that pastoral work and evangelization are reinforced.”
Born in a Catholic family, he entered Mongolia’s major seminary and was ordained a priest in 1989. He stayed in the seminary as a teacher of moral theology, and became dean of studies.
In 1999, Bishop John Baptist Wang Xixian entrusted Father Meng with the task of constructing new churches.
In 2004, when Bishop Wang fell ill, Father Meng was entrusted with the administration of the diocese. Moreover, beginning in 2001 the priest held several functions of direction within the local Patriotic Association and in the Department of Religious Affairs of Inner Mongolia.
Sunday’s ordination ceremony took place without the deployment of police witnessed on April 8, when Bishop Matthias Du Jiang of Bameng — another diocese of Inner Mongolia — took office.
Bishop Du Jiang had been approved by the Vatican and clandestinely consecrated in 2004. Only now was he officially recognized by the government as the head of the government-approved Church community of Bameng.
According to observers, Bishop Meng’s ordination is different than the on April 8 installation because the ceremony in Bameng was difficult given the presence of Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, “official” and illegitimate bishop (approved by the government but not recognized by Rome) of Kunming. This prelate is vice-chairperson of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which supervises the Catholic community on behalf of the government.
In contrast, on Sunday, neither Bishop Joseph Ma, secretary general of the conference of “official” bishops, nor any other illegitimate bishops were present at the ordination.
In a communiqué published March 25 by the Holy See, a commission Benedict XVI established in 2007 to study the complexities of the Church in China affirmed the necessity of unity among Catholics in that country.
Reporting on a March meeting of the commission, the communiqué noted, “the participants expressed the unanimous hope that all bishops in China may become increasingly committed to favoring the growth of unity, faith and life among all Catholics, avoiding gestures — such as, for example, sacramental celebrations, episcopal ordinations and participation in meetings — that run counter to communion with the Pope who appointed them pastors, and create difficulties — sometimes severe difficulties — in the bosom of their respective ecclesial communities.”
Other episcopal ordinations are being planned within the “official” Catholic Church in China: on April 21 for the diocese of Haimen in Jiangsu, then later, for the dioceses of Xiamen, Taizou and Wumeng. The names of the consecrating bishops are not yet known.