ROME, SEPT. 17, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Nicholas Shi Jin Xian, 88, died Wednesday in Shangqui, the last of the Augustinian Recollects to have worked in China before the take-over of Communism.
According to a statement from his order, it was Bishop Shi who “after decades of persecution and isolation, restored religious life in his diocese, and the Catholic Church’s relations with the civil authorities.”
Nicholas Shi was born in 1921, just three years before the Order of Augustinian Recollects arrived at the Henan Mission (present-day Shangqiu).
He entered the Augustinian minor seminary in his native municipality, and made his profession Jan. 16, 1940. After studying philosophy and theology, he was ordained a priest on July 29, 1948.
Shortly after Father Shi’s ordination, Spanish religious were expelled from China and native religious were dispersed or sent to concentration camps. His mission was thus closed.
Father Shi was soon after appointed episcopal vicar, until he was finally prohibited from exercising any pastoral action.
He first became an oculist, but later was consigned for three years to a brick factory to be “re-educated.” He was imprisoned for two years and lived in miserable conditions suffering the public contempt of the authorities.
However, behind closed doors, he did not cease his pastoral work, undertaking constant visits to Christian homes and leading underground liturgical celebrations. His human qualities were appreciated even by those who guarded him.
Deng Xiao Ping’s coming to power and the 1979 Cultural Revolution enabled the priest to get a “rehabilitation letter.” He was assigned to teach English, a job he held until his retirement.
Soon after, he managed to contact the Augustinian Recollects through letters written to addresses in Manila he had memorized as a young man. The contact was unexpected on both sides: Father Shi was not sure if the order still existed, having been told during his psychological torture that it was gone; the Augustinians themselves did not know if any Chinese religious were still alive.
Retired from his teaching tasks, he returned to Shangqui in 1980 to dedicate himself solely to pastoral work. He succeeded in having the civil authorities return to the Church all the goods they had confiscated since 1948. He re-opened the parish and contacted some of the Augustinian religious who were still in China after the dispersion. He also began to receive visits from foreign religious, once permission was granted for travel within China.
For years he engaged in negotiations with civil authorities, eventually gaining permission to have communities of religious in his diocese. In 1991, he was made bishop.
“Nicholas Shi deserves a place of honor in the history of the Order and in the Catholic Church in China,” the Augustinian statement affirmed. “His humility, discretion, ability to react and prudence led him to maintain a tense but respectful relationship with the authorities. His figure attracted many of his compatriots to Catholicism and the religious life.
“He was a person of profound spiritual life, deep faith and uncommon intelligence. Never having lived outside of China, he wrote in Latin, English and Spanish, and was able to translate official texts. When he made contact with the first Spanish religious, after almost 40 years without speaking, hearing or reading a word of Spanish, he had no problem writing letters and reports in this language with an astounding perfection.”
“His love for the Order of Augustinian Recollects in which he was formed, to which he belonged and which he re-established in his diocese, with a great vocational flowering, was a feature that all Augustinians recognize and thank him for.”