China is preparing to ordain a second bishop with the pope’s approval, the spokesman for a Catholic diocese said yesterday, a possible sign of easing relations between the Chinese government and the Vatican.
The possible ordination in Henan Province of Cosmos Ji Chengyi (吉成義) as bishop of Zhumadian and last week’s consecration of Joseph Zhang Yinlin (張銀林) as coadjutor bishop of Anyang follow a strained period between Beijing and Rome since 2011, when the Communist body that governs the church appointed bishops without Vatican approval.
China’s 8 million to 12 million Catholics are divided into two communities — an official church run by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association that answers to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and an underground church that swears allegiance only to the pope.
Zhang was ordained last week as China’s first Catholic bishop in more than three years, said Li Jianlin (李建林), a priest and spokesman for Henan diocese.
He said both Zhang and Ji had approval from Rome, although there was no timetable set for Ji’s ordination, because the church was undergoing “a lot of preparatory work.”
“Catholics are thrilled, because this is the first time since the founding of Henan Province that there has been an ordination ceremony recognized by both sides,” Li said, referring to the approval given by Beijing and the Vatican to Zhang’s consecration.
Li said that the diocese was renovating a church to prepare for Ji’s ordination.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The upcoming and previous ordinations were “good signs that the Chinese government is more open,” said Anthony Lam (林瑞琪), a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, an organ of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.
China has not ordained any bishops since Thaddeus Ma Daqin (馬達欽) publicly quit the state-sanctioned Catholic Church during his ordination as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai in 2012.
The Vatican, which has had no formal diplomatic relations with Beijing since shortly after the CCP took power in 1949, has been trying to improve relations with China.
The main point of contention between Beijing and the Vatican is which side should have the final say in the appointment of bishops. Another stumbling block is the Holy See’s recognition of Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
Meanwhile, Christians in the province of Zhejiang said authorities have been taking down crosses on churches since last year, creating tension between officials and congregations.
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