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Catholic Church Updates

January Updates 2021


January 2021


6 Updates



1. Bishop Andrew Han Jingtao, a ‘giant of culture and faith’ of the underground Church, dies.

2. In One Of China's Rare Catholic Communities, Christmas Is A Colorful Mix Of Customs.

3. Second bishop ordained under renewed Vatican-China deal.

4. The three great pillars of Chinese Catholicism

5. An unwavering bridge: Forty years building relations between the Church in China and the universal Church.

6. Msgr Thomas Chen Tianhao is the new bishop of Qingdao





Bishop Andrew Han Jingtao, a ‘giant of culture and faith’ of the underground Church, dies.


                                                                                                                                              31st December 2020


Bishop Andrew Han Jingtao, a ‘giant of culture and faith’ of the underground Church, dies


By: Bernardo Cervellera


A great scholar, he spent 27 years in a forced labour camp, and later taught at a university. He was also appreciated by prison authorities. Upon becoming bishop in 1982, he divided his time between academic and pastoral work. After 1997 he was under constant police surveillance. He was a supporter of the Legions of Mary and founder of the Women's Congregation of Mount Calvary.


Rome (AsiaNews) – Mgr Andrew Han Jingtao, underground bishop of Siping (Jilin), passed away last night at 11pm (Beijing time). He was 99 years old.


Described by some faithful as “a giant of culture and faith” of the unofficial community, Bishop Han was a great scholar from an early age.


His first studies took place under the direction of Canadian missionaries from Quebec, to whom the apostolic vicariate was entrusted.


His great culture was even recognised by the authorities of the forced labour camp where he spent 27 years (1953-1980) for refusing to join the “independent and autonomous” Church, following Mao Zedong’s directives.


Once free, the authorities hired him to teach English at Changchun University. A few months later he became associate professor at the Institute for the History of Ancient Civilisations at Northeast Normal University.


He taught undergraduate, master and doctoral students, and introduced many Chinese to the study of classical cultures and languages (Latin and Greek).


In 1987 he retired from teaching, but not from his Church and missionary work. Even before his imprisonment, he had focused on educating the laity through the Legions of Mary, pushing them to pray, proclaim and engage in charity work. At the same time he had started a congregation of nuns, later called “Mount Calvary”.


He said that in the 1950s, the regime tried to “get rid of the Pope's interference and expel foreign missionaries. At that time, I realised that the Church was facing a great challenge and needed great strength to resist; otherwise, she would not be able to stand up. This is why I decided to establish a religious congregation.”


In 1982 he was appointed bishop of Siping, but his ordination took place in secret in 1986. For several years, he had to divide his time between pastoral work and university commitments.


In the early 1980s, the government unified all ecclesiastical districts in Jilin province into a single diocese, that of Jilin. The Diocese of Siping, still recognised by the Holy See, coves sections of Jilin province, Inner Mongolia and Liaoning.


Starting in 1997, his home came under constant surveillance making his ministry difficult. Even the congregation of nuns he founded went through a difficult time: convents shut down, members dispersed, secret reopenings, members living in various underground communities.


According to the latest figures, the diocese has about 30,000 members, including 20,000 in the unofficial Church and 10,000 in the official one, with 20 priests and a hundred religious Sisters.


The diocese also offers some social services, including an orphanage and a medical centre.



        In One Of China's Rare Catholic Communities, Christmas Is A Colorful              Mix Of Customs.


                                                                                                                                 25th December 2020

Heard on All Things Considered


For the past 150 years, Cizhong Church in southwestern Yunnan province has been home to one of China' rare Catholic communities.

Amy Cheng/NPR


Cizhong Church in China's southwestern Yunnan province is bathed in a golden light on Christmas Eve.

The faithful are streaming into the church in full Tibetan regalia, with the women splitting off to sit on the left in their bright pink headscarves and silk brocades, and the men to the right in cowboy hats and shearlings. Neighbors wave at each other. Heavily swaddled children run up and down the church aisle.

The rare Catholic community has survived more than 150 years here in the village of Cizhong, just a few dozen kilometers away from the border with both China's Tibetan region and Myanmar.

Their traditions are a colorful mixture of Buddhist and Christian practices. The church embodies this amalgamation: painted Buddhist lotuses spiral around the balustrades, while Tibetan yin and yang symbols panel the ceiling.

Inside, several hundred of Cizhong's faithful chant Catholic prayers — with a twist. My companion in the pews explains their prayers and their Bible were originally written in Latin but were translated by French and Swiss fathers into Tibetan — and written phonetically in Chinese characters. Outside, church attendants light round after round of firecrackers to announce the official beginning of mass.

The traditions of the Catholic community in Yunnan province are a mixture of Buddhist and Christian practices. The Cizhong Church embodies this amalgamation.

Amy Cheng/NPR


Cizhong lies in a part of Yunnan province that is predominantly Tibetan and Naxi, another ethnic minority. They are both largely Buddhist. In 1852, the first French missionaries settled up river from here.

In 1905, Buddhist Tibetans attacked, killing at least two fathers and driving out the survivors downriver, to Cizhong, where the church they rebuilt four years later stands today.

"They further withdrew to essentially avoid the influences of the state. That withdrawn nature allows them to maintain that identity and that culture, despite outside influences elsewhere in China," says Matthew Chitwood, a researcher who once lived in the region.

Cizhong's remote location then helped it weather the decades after 1949, when China's now ruling Communist Party took control of the country, ushering in a period of political turmoil and often violent persecution of religious and intellectual leaders.

Members of the faithful filled the Cizhong Church in China's southwestern Yunnan province on Christmas Eve.

Amy Cheng/NPR


During this time, the Cizhong church was defaced of much of its Chinese and Buddhist inscriptions. It narrowly escaped full demolition because its hefty stone walls proved too difficult to burn down.

China today still does not allow free and unfettered religious worship. The state has demolished religious sites and imprisoned Islamic and Christian religious leaders.

A woman says a prayer during Christmas Eve services at Cizhong Church.

Amy Cheng/NPR


But now Cizhong is rising in prominence as authorities work to rebrand Deqin county, where Cizhong is located, and neighboring Zhongdian county as attractive tourism destinations. In 2001, the area was renamed "Shangri-la," after the fabled but fictional utopia of religious tolerance described in the novel Lost Horizon.


"Having this community of Catholics has also allowed the government to promote the community, you know, as a sort of a tourist spot because of this Catholic identity," says Brendan Galipeau, an assistant professor of anthropology at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan who has done fieldwork in Cizhong.

Wine-making is becoming a draw. Cizhong's first French fathers brought with them grape vine cuttings with them from France, and they grow to this day in a vineyard adjacent to the church. More than 20 years ago, villagers began nurturing the vines once again and planting new cuttings on their own plots of land to make a range of full-bodied red wines and ice wines that have further drawn in tourists.

The region is also the site for official poverty alleviation projects, bringing in about 400 new residents relocated from even more remote villages nearby.

"There's a big concern the Catholics, who had been a majority, are now going to become a minority in the community," says Galipeau.

In the past four years, the local county government tore down nearly all the rice fields and replaced them with squat cement homes for the new residents, more than doubling the size of Cizhong. The sound of construction is ubiquitous.

So is the state scrutiny. NPR was followed by several government minders in Cizhong who questioned anyone NPR spoke with.

I tried to meet Xiao Jieyi, a French-speaking 90-year-old Tibetan Catholic who once aspired to be Cizhong's priest. Those ambitions were dashed when the church was closed during a decade of political turmoil in the 1960s.

Now, while Xiao can sing First Noel to us, he cannot talk freely. He receives a phone call as soon as I step into his courtyard: it is the police. He tells me - there are orders from above.

The same thing happens when I try to meet with Yao Fei, Cizhong's first resident priest since the 1950s. (The last one, Reverend A.F. Savioz, was expelled from China in 1952.) In 2008, Father Yao was sent to Cizhong by the state-run Catholic Associa­tion of China, which is not recognized by the Vatican, and now runs several masses a week.

Cizhong's celebrations conclude on Christmas Day with hours of Tibetan music and dancing. Worshipers bring large cakes — which they pile in front of the altar to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Later, the cakes are distributed to anyone who comes by.

Amy Cheng/NPR

A child smiles as she listens to men playing music during Cizhong's Christmas celebrations.

Amy Cheng/NPR


"Merry Christmas," he manages to tell me as he finishes receiving confessions before rushing off to mass. After the service, he remains surrounded by several state minders who also prevent NPR from speaking individually to revelers.

Cizhong's two-day celebrations conclude on Christmas Day with hours of Tibetan music and dancing. Worshipers bring large birthday cakes, which they pile in front of the altar to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Later, the cakes — as well as large vats of chicken-infused rice liquor — are distributed to anyone who comes by, including many Buddhist relatives who enjoy the festivities and help with the preparations. Many families are mixed religion, with both Buddhists and Christians among their ranks.

"Buddhism, like Christianity, has many sects, but none of us have disputes," said a Tibetan Buddhist surnamed Xu, who spent Christmas eve slaughtering pigs with several of the Catholic choir boys, for the communal lunch the next day. "It is simple. You believe in your god, and I believe in mine."

Amy Cheng contributed research from Cizhong, Yunnan.



Second bishop ordained under renewed Vatican-China deal.


                                                                                                                                                                                23rd December 2020



UCA News -


Father Peter Liu Genzhu becomes bishop of Hongdong in Shanxi province


UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

The ordination of Father Peter Liu Genzhu as bishop of Hongdong (Linfen) on Dec. 22. (Photo:


A bishop has been ordained in China with the approval of both the country’s communist regime and the Vatican in the second such ceremony since an agreement between the two was renewed in October.


Father Peter Liu Genzhu was ordained bishop of Hongdong (Linfen) on Dec. 22 in Shanxi province.


The ordination came just a month after Bishop Thomas Chen Tianhao of Qingdao, Shandong, was ordained on Nov. 23, the first ordination with the approval of the Holy See and the Chinese government under the provisional agreement.


The Vatican and China signed an agreement on bishops’ appointments in September 2018 for two years and it was renewed in October. The details of the agreement have not been published.


The episcopal ordinations were considered the authentic fruits of the agreement, according to a source from the Holy See.


Candidates went through the process of episcopal election from the local Church and the selections were recognized by Chinese authorities and approved and appointed by Pope Francis, the source told UCA News on Dec. 23.


The system is expected to become the normal practice of bishop appointments in China.


Under the provisional agreement, the election result is communicated to the Holy See and only after an investigation can the decision be approved and an appointment made by the pope.


The papal appointment of Bishop Liu was confirmed in November, a month after the renewal of the Vatican-China provisional agreement on Oct. 22.


The controversial provisional agreement, which has been renewed for another two years, aims to end China's communist government directly appointing Catholic bishops without papal recognition.


The ordination of 54-year-old Bishop Liu was held at the Catholic church in Hongdong County Square, according to the official website of the state-approved Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).


The consecration was presided by Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou of Taiyuan, deputy director of the provincial CCPA. Other concelebrants included Bishop Wu Junwei of Yuncheng, Bishop Ding Lingbin of Changzhi and Bishop Ma Cunguo of Shuozhou.


At the ceremony, Father Yang Yu, deputy secretary general of the Council of Chinese Bishops, announced the mandate of Bishop Liu on behalf of the BCCCC in an approval letter dated Dec. 16 in which papal approval of the candidate was noted.


About 63 priests joined the celebration along with 200 seminarians, nuns and Catholics from dioceses across the province.


Bishop Liu succeeds Bishop Joseph Sun Yuanmo, who died in 2006 after a long illness.


Born in 1966 in Hongdong, Bishop Liu graduated from the Shaanxi Catholic Theological and Philosophical Seminary in Xian in 1991 and was ordained a priest in the same year. He was appointed vicar general of Lifen Diocese in 2010 and was a deputy director of the provincial CCPA.



The three great pillars of Chinese Catholicism


                                                                                                                                                          14th December 2020

US-China Catholic Association
Fr. Michael, USCCA

The three great pillars of Chinese Catholicism

At this time in the Church’s year, we celebrate the memory of Leon LI Zhizao (1565–1630), Paul XÚ Guangqi, (1562–1633), and Michael YÁNG Tíngyún (1557–1627). These renowned scholar officials lived during the Ming Dynasty and became ardent champions of a new teaching brought to China by missionaries from the West, Christianity.

All three men were thoroughly trained in the Chinese classics. They were highly respected for their integrity. And they rose to high position in the Empire. Paul Xu eventually rose to the rank of Deputy Senior Grand Secretary, roughly equivalent to prime minister of the realm.

These men met the Jesuit Matteo Ricci and his companions, engaging with them in wide-ranging conversations about everything from mathematics and astronomy to ethics and spirituality.

In their encounter with the Gospel, they did not view Christianity as a foreign faith that posed a threat to Chinese culture – quite the opposite. Yang, Xu, and Li were men who had committed their lives to the traditions of their ancestors and the good governance of the realm. They saw Christianity as providing a sure foundation for their efforts, its capstone and guarantee. Why be virtuous? Because the world has a moral structure whose Lord is a benevolent redeemer of our broken inner and outer lives.

Many scholars have misunderstood this historical moment of encounter. Even the great Jonathan Spence has treated the mathematics, map making, and Western science brought by the Jesuits as mere strategic efforts to gain a hearing for Christianity, as if religion were some category set apart. Such a way of thinking of religion as set apart in its own sphere is thoroughly foreign to the Renaissance humanism of the early Jesuits, who saw God at work in the majesty of the cosmos, the order of mathematics, and the beauty of friendship.

At the core of Jesuit spirituality is the imperative of St. Ignatius: See God in all things! And so the Jesuits, for their part, also appreciated how God was at work in Chinese culture.

During this season of Hope, as we await the Prince of Peace, let pray that those hopeful conversations that took in everything from math to ethics to spirituality continue in our own day and in the generations to come.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Also see this article by Jean Elizabeth Seah reprinted in the Hong Kong Sunday Examiner. 

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An unwavering bridge: Forty years building relations between the Church in China and the universal Church.

27th November 2020

Sunday Examiner - Hong Kong


On 1 October 1980, the first four staff members—Father John Tong, Father Angelo Lazzarotto of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Father Elmer Wurth and Father Peter Barry, of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (MM)—opened the doors of the Holy Spirit Study Centre.

The primary attitude of staff members on this milestone 40th anniversary is thanksgiving. First of all, we must thank God for the many graces he has bestowed on our centre throughout the last 40 years. 

Secondly, we must thank John Baptist Cardinal Wu, then the ordinary bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, for having the foresight to set up the centre to act as a bridge between the resurrected Church in China and the universal Catholic Church. We must thank the rector and staff of the Holy Spirit Seminary for giving us space for our office. 

We must thank former staff members, like Father John Cioppa MM, who in 1979, when he was on the Maryknoll General Council, assigned Father Elmer Wurth and Father Peter Barry, and later, Father Michael Sloboda to Hong Kong for China research work. 

We thank the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the Paris Foreign Missions and the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) for respectively assigning Father Angelo Lazzarotto, Father Gianni Criveller and Father Sergio Ticozzi, Father Bruno Lepeu and Father Pierre Jeanne, and Father Leo Van den Berg and Father Patrick Taveirne to work in our centre. Father Carlos Linera of the Dominicans also worked with us for many years. And let us not forget Jesuit Father Norman Walling and Father Ray O’Toole of Scarboro Missions. 

The primary attitude of staff members on this milestone 40th anniversary is thanksgiving. First of all, we must thank God for the many graces he has bestowed on our centre throughout the last 40 years. 

We thank the Maryknoll Sisters for assigning Sister Betty Ann Maheu, Sister Maureen Corr and Sister Miriam Xavier Mug and the Sisters of the Precious Blood for assigning Sister Beatrice Leung and Sister Goretti Lau to our centre. The latter sisters served as editors of the Chinese side of Tripod (later replaced by Catholic layperson, Anthony Lam), while Sister Maheu was editor of the English side for many years. We also thank all the faithful staff, past and present, who have worked with us over the years.

Above all, we thank the members of the Ricci Study Team and all our benefactors, who have supported us with their gifts and prayers over these 40 years, and we ask God to continually bless them with good health and many graces throughout their lives.

Looking back, I think we can say that during these 40 years we have never wavered from the mission given us by the centre’s real founder, Cardinal Wu, who instructed us: “Build a bridge between our brothers and sisters inside and outside of China, promoting the mission of reconciliation through the gospel.”

Exchange visits soon began to take place. An example of visits abroad by church people from China, was the invitation in 1986 of the United States (US) Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to 10 Chinese bishops, priests and lay people to visit the US. 

When Holy Spirit Study Centre first started, our initial purpose was simply to help the Church in China to get back on its feet. In the beginning we sent Bibles, catechisms and missals, and religious articles, such as medals and rosaries, to the newly awakening Christian communities in China. Then we helped the various dioceses, now numbering about 100, from the 144 in 1949, to apply for funding from overseas agencies to re-build churches, seminaries and convents.

Exchange visits soon began to take place. An example of visits abroad by church people from China, was the invitation in 1986 of the United States (US) Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to 10 Chinese bishops, priests and lay people to visit the US. 

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The bishops were Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan of Beijing, Bishop Alysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, and Bishop Bernardine Dong Guangqing of Wuhan, plus some priests and lay people. Father Laurence T. Murphy mm, who was at that time the secretary general of the association, organised the trip. 

The group visited the University of San Francisco, Notre Dame, Fordham, Saint Elizabeth’s in Convent Station, New Jersey, and the Catholic University in Washington, DC. In every place the delegation met local Church leaders as well as university personnel. Father John Tong and Father Peter Barry accompanied the group as translators.

In recent years, Father Bruno Lepeu MEP, and Annie Lam of our centre organised formation programmes for Chinese Catholics on Church-related topics, such as marriage and family. The participants and their Church leaders greatly appreciated these exchanges.

All the above activities have been written up in previous publications, most notably in a pictorial history Sister Maheu, then English editor of the centre’s journal, Tripod, edited for the centre’s 25th anniversary. Tripod, 197 issues of which have been published since 1980, started as a vehicle for dialogue with Chinese intellectuals. 

I would like now to relate some satisfying experiences of my own involvement in this China liaison work. One day during the summer of 1994 I went up to Jilin Province in China’s northeast, to visit some members of my missionary society, Maryknoll, who were teaching English in the Korean Autonomous Region. 

When I met the rector of the seminary, the first words out of his mouth were, “Qing jiao women yixie dongxi,”— “Please teach us something.”

Maryknoll used to be in charge of the Diocese of Fushun in that area. Since I speak Mandarin, one of my confrères suggested that I stop at the Jilin Seminary to see if I could be of any use to them. So that’s what I did.

When I met the rector of the seminary, the first words out of his mouth were, “Qing jiao women yixie dongxi,”— “Please teach us something.” The reader must remember that there were not many trained professors in Chinese seminaries in those days. Two old priests taught catechism from old manuals and acted as spiritual directors. The rector taught moral theology and a deacon taught dogmatic theology. 

Not really knowing what to say, I blurted out: “OK, give me a Chinese Bible.” I stayed at the seminary for three days. My next problem was what to teach the seminarians.

Luckily I studied theology at Maryknoll from 1961 to 1965, at the same time that Vatican Council II was taking place. Almost every day, our professors would tell us what was happening at the council. 

One day, in April 1964, our professor of New Testament came into class brandishing a piece of paper. Waving it, he said one sentence: “Now we can believe in Sitz im leben.” That was a German phrase which meant “situation in life.” 

The document, issued that month by the Biblical Commission in Rome, was entitled Sancta Mater Ecclesia, and was on the historicity of the gospels. It pointed out that there were three stages in the formation of the gospels: the situation in the life of Jesus, the situation of the early Church and the situation of the evangelist.

Not really knowing what to say, I blurted out: “OK, give me a Chinese Bible.” I stayed at the seminary for three days. My next problem was what to teach the seminarians.

German Protestant biblical scholars expounded this theory of Bible study in the mid-1800s. The Biblical Commission’s document declared that now we Catholic students of the Bible could accept the explanation of this process in the formation of the gospels. 

This explanation was also incorporated into Vatican II’s own document on Revelation, Dei Verbum, the following year, 1965 (paragraph 19).

I told my students in Jilin in 1994, that while the gospels are historically accurate, we may wonder why some things were chosen to be included and other things left out.  As a conclusion to his gospel John would write: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (John 20: 30-31) 

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I covered the characteristics of each of the four gospels. For instance, Matthew’s gospel has passages like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.’” One of Luke’s characteristics is “filled with the Holy Spirit,” whenever Jesus or one of the Apostles said or did something. John has many “I am” sayings, like I am the way, the truth and the life,” “I am the bread of life,” I am the Good Shepherd,” etc. I emphasised to my students that Catholic seminarians must know these characteristics of the gospels. 

I told them that the 1964 document of the Biblical Commission is an example of St. Anselm’s definition of theology, Fides quaerens intellectum,—“Faith seeking understanding.” 

The three stages in the formation of the gospels are tools to help us understand the background of the gospels. In fact, they were incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church of Pope John Paul II in 1994 (para. 126), which however calls them by a different name: 1. the life and teaching of Jesus, 2. the oral tradition, and 3. the written Gospels. The footnote for all three is paragraph #19 of the Vatican II: Dogmatic Constitution on Divine RevelationDei Verbum.

That single incident in my life demonstrates what we have been trying to do for the last 40 years. 


We were not just passing on knowledge, but “a spirit.” Just as my professors at Maryknoll imparted to me a love for the sacred scriptures, so too, 30 years later, in 1994, I was trying to impart that same love for the Word of God to the seminarians of the Jilin Seminary. 

We were not just passing on knowledge, but “a spirit.” Just as my professors at Maryknoll imparted to me a love for the sacred scriptures, so too, 30 years later, in 1994, I was trying to impart that same love for the Word of God to the seminarians of the Jilin Seminary. 

I took my inspiration from the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, when the two Emmaus disciples said: “Were not our hearts burning within us, as we were walking on the road and he explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32), or as Jesus did later for a larger group of disciples: “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24: 45). PJB



Msgr Thomas Chen Tianhao is the new bishop of Qingdao

23rd November 2020

AsiaNews -



By :Wang Zhicheng


Officially he would be the first bishop ordained according to the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican. The new bishop is considered very obedient to the government's religious policy. He is a member of the Standing Committee of the National Patriotic Association.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Msgr Thomas Chen Tianhao, 58, is the new bishop of Qingdao (Shandong). His ordination took place this morning in the city cathedral, dedicated to St. Michael. Msgr. Fan Xingyao of Linyi, president of the National Chinese Patriotic Association presided over the ordination ceremony. The other concelebrating bishops were: Msgr. Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun, vice president of the Council of Chinese bishops, and Msgr. Zhang Xianwang of Jinan, vice-president of the "liang hui", the "double organization", which includes the Council of Bishops and the Patriotic Association.

Some faithful have pointed out that the large presence of high-ranking members of the Patriotic Association is due to the fact that the newly ordained himself was president of the Patriotic Association of Qingdao, and since 2010 he has been a member of the Standing Committee of the National Patriotic Association.

According to some experts, this would be the first episcopal ordination to take place following the modalities prepared in the Provisional Agreement between China and the Holy See. But the consecration formula would have remained the old one, in which the mandate of the Council of Bishops is mentioned, but nothing is said about the Pope and the Holy See.

The new bishop is known as a loyal state official when it comes to religious policy. He succeeds Msgr. Giuseppe Li Mingshu, who died in June 2018.

Due to the limitations caused by the pandemic, the celebration was not open to everyone. But there were 21 priests and over 200 nuns and faithful.

Bishop Chen Tianhao was born in Pingdu (Shandong) in 1962. He studied in the Holy Spirit seminary in Shandong and in December 1989 was ordained a priest. According to official data, he was elected and appointed bishop of Qingdao on November 19, 2019.





November Updates 2020




November 2020


3 Updates



1. Does China really need more bishops?

2. All Saints' Mass in Shanghai Cathedral

3. The blood of martyrs, the seed of civilization: reflections on the life of St. Agatha Lin Zhao.






Does China really need more bishops?


                                    16th November 2020


UCA News -


Does China really need more bishops?


It is not good for the Church to structure itself as a territorial administration only


By: Michel Chambon


The recently renewed Sino-Vatican provisional agreement on appointing bishops has been questioned by many observers. Even though the Holy See has repeatedly reaffirmed the benefit of such a development, many commentators remain doubtful. For them, the agreement does not really bring any good to Chinese Catholics but gives more leverage to the administration to control the clergy.


In a context where political pressure and administrative interference on official and unofficial communities have increased significantly, many do not understand how the Holy See can present the agreement as positive.


The main critical argument refers to newly appointed bishops. Over the past two years, only a very few bishops came to office while many episcopal seats remain vacant. Thus, progress seems extremely limited while political pressure continues to increase. In the eyes of most observers, if the agreement is incapable of appointing new bishops, it only helps state officials to increase their anti-religious control. Thus, it brings more harm than good.


This rationale needs to be questioned. It is true that about 40 episcopal seats remain empty today. But which seats are we referring to? Due to historical reasons, the Holy See continues to apply the pre-1949 map of Chinese ecclesial structures. For Rome, the country remains organized into 143 jurisdictions (dioceses and apostolic prefectures). Yet many agree that this mapping of Chinese Catholicism is outdated and needs updates.


Over the past decades, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association has unilaterally abolished or merged more than 40 ecclesial jurisdictions and established a few ones. Thus, in the eyes of Beijing, China counts only 104 Catholic dioceses. This means that Beijing and Rome do not share the same mapping of the Chinese Catholicism. And between their two conflicting maps, the exact number of needed bishops is unclear.


Still, a significant number of episcopal seats remain empty. Why? Is that beneficial or detrimental to the Church? I would like to take the example of one eastern province of the country to see how things work on the ground. Of course, this cannot summarize the complexity of the whole country. But it sheds light on factors we need to consider.


The province in question hosts four state-approved dioceses. Three are small in size but with a robust number of Catholics. The last one covers a vast and mountainous territory — almost half of the entire province — with small and scattered Christian communities. This extended diocese is the fusion of two apostolic prefectures plus a few parishes — a decision that has not yet been approved by Rome. During the Maoist Era and after, since they were no local priests, local Catholics were supported by clergy members visiting from nearby dioceses. Until today, this diocese has never had a bishop.


Before the agreement, one small diocese of this province had one official bishop and its ecclesial situation was relatively harmonious. Another diocese, however, was sharply divided between a vast majority of underground Catholics and a minority of official ones. While both camps had their own bishop, the state-approved bishop was excommunicated by Rome due to his illicit ordination. Thus, the 2018 provisional agreement reintegrated him into the communion of the Church. And to do so, the underground bishop was asked to become his auxiliary.


Yet tensions between priests remained extremely high. And just before the renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement last month, the former underground bishop — a humble man with modest education dealing with a restless clergy and a devious Religious Affairs Bureau — finally resigned from his auxiliary office.


Then, if we move to the last diocese of the province, the situation is not really better. Before the agreement, the small state-sanctioned community had no bishop. For several years, more numerous underground Catholics were divided into two clans fighting each other. After internal reconciliation of the underground communities, and before the renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement, the elderly underground bishop was finally recognized by the government as the official bishop of the diocese. No one can tell how this will reshape the diocese, nor how long the elderly bishop will survive. Still, things are on the move.


In sum, the province has currently three bishops — two with a fragile status despite a resourceful diocese — and one (or two) empty episcopal seat(s) depending on the map we apply.


Time needed for reconciliation


Where recent episcopal changes occurred, local communities and their regional networks need time to truly reconcile and find a way to work together. This cannot be imposed by Rome or Beijing. Yet this will impact new nominations across the province.


For example, one priest coming from the hometown of the former excommunicated bishop has been serving the vast and mountainous diocese for more than 20 years. Since his quality and modesty are indisputable, he has acted as diocesan administrator for years and would be the most suitable bishop. However, if the Holy See and Beijing appoint him, this will appear as more credit given to the circle of the formerly excommunicated bishop. In the current context, no one can predict how local underground Catholics will respond, and if they do not receive him, a formal appointment will bring more divisions than reconciliations.


Furthermore, many consider that in the vast territory of this rural diocese it might be better not having an identified head. Under the current decline of religious freedom, loose networks of Catholic communities are harder to grasp by civil authorities. Local Catholics like to repeat the saying: “The first bird to bob up will get shot.” Whoever will get appointed as bishop will become the target of political pressure. So, for a diocese with very limited resources, it might be better to keep a low profile — with no single head.


With these different ecclesial territories, each unfolding its own dynamics and influencing its neighbors, this province shows the complexity of the Church’s situation as well as the limited control of Beijing and the Holy See. Clearly, appointing more bishops is not a magical solution to all difficulties of the Church. This is clericalism. When a local context is sore, the Holy See knows how to wait before making a formal decision (see the recent appointment in Jerusalem). This is not weakness but cautiousness.


This being clarified, we may still ask what the Sino-Vatican agreement brings. Clearly, it does not multiply the number of bishops. However, we need to remember that over the past 40 years, Beijing and Rome have each demonstrated abilities to ordain more bishops. Both know how to be efficient and tough on that front.


Through coercion and kidnapping, the Chinese Communist Party has several times organized forced episcopal ordinations. On the other side, through special privileges and secret communications, the Holy See has let Chinese bishops ordain new bishops without papal nomination. So, if the Vatican or Beijing wants more bishops, they know how to get them. Yet those solutions have proven to generate all sorts of complications and disasters, not only detrimental to Chinese Catholics but to both authorities as well. In light of this tortuous path, the agreement appears as a bilateral effort to find an alternative solution.


The renewed Sino-Vatican agreement is about strengthening common ground acceptable for both authorities as well as for the different factions of Chinese Catholicism. Surely this is a slow process if we look solely from the perspective of newly appointed bishops. But the fact that all bishops are now in communion with Rome is a first step toward healing.


When Chinese Catholics and their clergy split into antagonist groups attacking each other, parts of the body of Christ suffer from other parts. This autoimmune disease is, of course, partially fueled by external pathogens that triggered the immune system of the Church. But since Chinese Catholics cannot be put into a sterilized bubble, the Holy See needs other options. Reintegrating excommunicated bishops, suspending institutionalized divisions, and regaining a certain control over episcopal nominations are ways to encourage the Church in China. It helps to regenerate some levels of communion within the Church. Yet the whole body needs to do his job. Fraternal communion cannot be imposed by Rome.


Therefore, I believe that evaluating the Sino-Vatican agreement only through newly appointed bishops is shortsighted. This is a very political, top-down and administrative approach. Having more bishops is not a solution to all problems. Moreover, turning the spotlight on bishops without considering the diversity of the Church is problematic. A tree cannot hide the forest. Which kind of ecclesiology are we promoting?


Among the many challenges that the Church in China is facing, there is one that we need to spell out. Unlike the rest of the world where local communities can be served by both, secular and regular clergy, the Chinese Church is supposedly unidimensional. Due to political constraints, the Church is only made of dioceses. Transregional as well as transnational religious orders are forbidden. Unlike in Paris, Nairobi or Buenos Aires where a single street can host a Dominican convent, a Franciscan chapel and a diocesan parish, Chinese streets cannot. Only parishes administrated by their diocese are allowed.


This undue political restriction may seem acceptable to some church leaders who look down upon the contribution of religious life. I have heard a well-educated Chinese priest telling me that the Church does not need monks since “we all know how to pray”. Others may use Vatican II to claim that bishops and their dioceses are the fundamental backbone of the Church. But this unidimensional ecclesiology fails to embrace the variety of Catholic needs and sensibilities.


Unlike elsewhere in the world where the Church is irrigated by two kinds of ecclesial institutions, local dioceses and transregional religious orders, the Church in China is forced to hop on one foot. Of course, underground networks of national religious orders exist. But their impact is limited. Thus, the necessary diversity of the Church tends to be institutionalized through an unhealthy opposition between “patriotic” and “underground” communities while traditional resources are left behind.


It is this challenge that we need to face. The lack of religious orders, especially male religious orders, is concerning in many countries. It is not good for the Church to structure itself as a territorial administration only. But in China the problem is worse and observers turn blind eyes. While the number of bishops is important, we should worry about the absence of transregional religious orders. Without them, the Body of Christ cannot deploy its diversity and deepen its spiritual roots. Without birds on its trees, a forest cannot really sing the glory of God. And it is this absence — unnoticed by most social scientists and journalists — that Catholics need to question.


* Michel Chambon is a French Catholic theologian and anthropologist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.



        All Saints' Mass in Shanghai Cathedral


                                  2nd November 2020


AsiaNews -



All Saints' Mass in Shanghai Cathedral

By: Chiara Xu


Due to the pandemic, the number of Masses has increased so that fewer participants attend and approach the communion. Non-Christians often visit, especially young people. The seed of faith never dies, whatever soil receives it.

Shanghai (AsiaNews) – The Solemnity of All Saints, celebrated yesterday, was an unforgettable moment for the Church in Shanghai.

Given the unstable situation caused by the pandemic, it is difficult to ensure regular operations in the various parishes. However, in Shanghai, taking part in Sunday Mass was already possible in July, obviously with fewer worshippers but more daily Masses to give all Christians an opportunity for communion.

Yesterday, St Ignatius Cathedral (the Catholic church in Xujiahui) was packed with believers beyond belief. Groups of people prayed first in front of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and then entered the cathedral to wait for Mass.

When we arrived at the cathedral, the previous Mass had just ended. Every Sunday, four Masses are performed and each always has hundreds of worshippers.

The 10 am Mass started right on time. The celebrants headed towards the altar, accompanied by the sweet melody of the choir and the pipe organ.

My heart was pounding with feelings. I looked around and saw old people, young people, mothers and fathers with their children. As an international metropolis, Shanghai is home to Chinese and foreigners, but before God we are all his children, without distinction.

Inside the Cathedral, a solemn yet familiar atmosphere reigned. When they stood to pray, many worshippers kept their hands joined at the level of their heart, their head slightly lowered, an almost innate gesture, engraved in the depths of everyone's soul.

During the Eucharistic blessing, the assembly knelt in silence, their gaze turned to the altar, as if to fix hope and trust on Christ. Many were moved by the presence of the Eucharist.

Chinese Catholics have great faith. But non-believers have also shown a keen interest. Many people often arrive, especially young people, to visit places of worship. It is noted that the seed of faith never dies, whatever soil receives it.

Had Jesus Christ come as far as the Far East during his years of preaching, I think he would have come with the same mercy and love that he showed the people of Jerusalem, forgiving all sinners and behaving as he did in the encounter with the adulterous woman.

Perhaps he would not have condemned the "doctors" who were in power and who sought to eliminate the threat posed by Christ, nor Pontius Pilate who sentenced him to death.

* A. is a young baptised woman living in Shanghai.



    The blood of martyrs, the seed of civilization:reflections on the life of St. Agatha Lin Zhao.


By: Fr. Dr. Peter ZHAO Jianmin


The life of St. Agata LIN Zhao (林昭)


St. Agata LIN Zhao (圣亚加大 林昭)was born in 1817 in a small village called Ma Chang (马场) , located in Xingyi County (兴义县) in the Province of Guizhou during Qing Dynasty, China. Her house were still standing in 1891 when Mgr. Guichard passed through there. He also suggested to buy that house to build a church. Her father LIN Guoxiang (林国相)was selling salt for the family living. 


Her mother YIN Shi (尹氏),who lived to a ripe old age, was taking care of the family life as at that time no women could go out to work.


We do not know the exact time when this family was baptized. However, it is sure that they were converted by a Chinese catechist, St. Giuseppe ZHANG Dapeng(张大鹏). St. Agata Lin's father had been tortured several times by the county's local governor because he did not renounce his faith. When St. Agata Lin was born, her father was still in the county prison. Three days after her birth, St. Agata Lin was baptized by her mother, and later the family had to move to Longli County (龙里县), south of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province, and they remained in Longli for three years.


At that time, there was a very popular Chinese custom: proposing a marriage by pointing to the stomach (指腹为婚) or proposing a child marriage by both parents of the children. When St. Agata Lin was a baby or very little, following the popular Chinese custom at that time, she was engaged by her parents to another catholic family of Liu in Ta-pa-tien(大坝田?) village. Perhaps her parents wanted her, when she was growing up, to marry into a catholic family. Compared with the population as a whole at that time, even today perhaps, Catholics were very few. So this child engagement was a good idea for both family and gave them catholic connections.


At that time, there was another Chinese custom. Only boys, if the family rich enough, were sent to a traditional private school (私塾) or a home school with private tutor in a village or a town. A large number of girls had no possibility of learning how to read or how to write unless the family was very rich. The parents, in a rich family, could pay a home tutor to come to their house to teach their girls. Therefore, the very ancient custom was that girls would not be educated and therefore they would remain within their husband's home to assist husband and bring up children (相夫教子). St Agata Lin's parents were not very rich. However, it is evident that St Agata Lin's parents were influenced by their Catholic faith and were so open-minded that they asked other catholic catechists to teach their girl to study Chinese language at the seven years age. This learning opened St Agata Lin's eyes.


Later, when St Agata Lin was growing up, her parents informed her of her “child engagement”. Nonetheless, she informed her parents that she did not wish to be married and she would like to be a virgin (贞女), to serve God. Because of this, her parents had to call off the “child engagement”.


When Fr. Matthew Liu(刘玛窦), a Franciscan priest, came to St Agata Lin's village for the Eucharist, she revealed her intention to the priest. Then, Fr. Liu discussed the matter with St Agata Lin's father and asked her father to send her to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province. In the capital there were two schools, one for boys directed by a catechist, and one for girls guided by Chinese virgins from Sichuan, whose family name was Yuan(). A few months later, a persecution began and the two virgins had to move out of the town. Later, the first Chinese priest in Guizhou, Thomas Luo (骆文灿), whose ordination was on 23 May 1850, asked St. Agata Lin to initiate a girls school in a small and quiet village. This girls school was quite successful.


In 1852, Paul Yang's (杨保禄) family, newly converted to Catholic Faith, moved from Zhenning County (今贵州省安顺市镇宁布依族苗族自治县)to the village of Maokou (毛口) near Langdai County (今贵州省安顺市郎岱镇). In the 1 village Paul Yang distributed two books to a learned Chinese Lu Tingmei(卢廷美). One is Sheng Jiao Li Zheng (《圣教理证 published in 1852 by Bishop Bai (Etienne Raymond Albrand), Apostolic Vicar of Guizhou) and the other Zhen Dao Zi Zheng (沙守信的《真道自证)published in 1718 by the Jesuit Emeric de Chavagnac). Subsequently, Lu Tingmei's family were all baptized. Later, Lu Tingmei, namely St. Jerome Lu, was martyred with LIN Zhao. By the end of 1853, when Fr. Thomas Luo (骆文灿) came to Maokou, there were already more than 200 neophytes (men and woman) in the surrounding villages. These neophytes were mostly from ethnic Dongzu(侗族). Since the numbers of neophytes were growing rapidly and many of them were women, Fr. Thomas Luo and St. Jerome Lu asked the virgin St. Agata Lin to come to Maokou(毛口) to establish a female school to teach Catholic doctrine, reading and writing to the women and girls.


On 4th June 1857 behind the church in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, a virgins community was established and those virgins in Guizhou were asked by the Apostolic Vicariate to be admitted to this community.


Some time later the governor of Anshun(安顺) Prefecture, to which Maokou village was subject, released a public notice that prohibited people to become a Catholic. In January 1858, Lawrence Wang Bing(王炳), who was a catechist in a nearby county named Puan County(普安县), south-west by 100 kilometers from Maokou, came to the small village to visit Jerome Lu Tingmei to discuss a project to build an oratory. Catechist Jerome Lu had prepared some donations and rice for building of the chapel.


On 27 January 1858, governor Dai() with some soldiers, came from Langdai(郎岱厅), arrived at Maokou in the evening and surrounded the oratory there. Lawrence Wang, Jerome Lu and some other Christians were arrested. After being questioned, they were all released to go home but required to stay in their home. A little later Wang and Lu went to visit Agata Lin to let her knows there were freed. As usual at that time the female school(女堂) was separate from the male school(男堂). St Agata Lin encouraged them and said: “Prepare you souls. It may be martyrdom, or at least, most likely you will be taken to the town of Langdai for judgement.” Then, the two catechists returned to their home for night.


In the early morning, 28th January, the governor with Jerome Lu's uncle and some soldiers went to the river bank of the Maokou and selected a place for executing the death penalty. Then they returned to the village and arrested Jerome Lu, Lawrence Wang and a little later Agata Lin, the virgin catechist who was in charge of the female school. The governor ordered them to renounce their religion again.


However, they all refused.

After interrogating Jerome Lu and Lawrence Wang, governor Dai turned to St Agatha Lin and interrogated Agata Lin.

“What is your family name?”

“My family name is Lin”. Agata Lin answered.

“Which place are you from?”

“From Lao-ouang-tang, behind Hong-hoa-ti.”

“Your name Lin: is it your parents name or that of your husband when you were married?” Dai asked again.

“It is my parents name, because I am not married.”

“Why you don't want to marry?”

“Me, a poor and humble woman, I guard my virginity.” Lin answered.

“Ha! You guard your virginity! The whole world should get married. In renouncing marriage, you are destroying the five relations necessary for a human being. How can you come to Maokou? What are you coming here for? Why did you come here?”

“I come to teach books.”

“What books do you teach? You teach something to men, youth and old people?”

“In this place, the young girls ignore our language and our custom; I teach them that they can contract an honest marriage and then they can more easily have conversation with their parents and their husband. I also teach them obedience. At the end, these young girls can have their own honor which belongs to them.” Lin explained.

“You are a noble race of Chinese, how can you come so far to instruct Tchongkia-tse(侗家子, ethnic Dongzu)? What relationship do you have with these people? 4 You said you come to teach them. What you said is very foolish. All of you, and Teacher Wang, comes from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, to Maokou; you are from the place of Lao-ouang-tang, a distance of 80 or 90 Li (); you all come to the place of Maokou! You are all race of Han Chinese, but you are doing well with the families of Tchong-kia-tse(ethnic Dongzu)! What are you really trying to do here? I am afraid that you may organize something. I am afraid that you are trying to start a rebellion. As for me, I am the governor, and I learned in my town Langdai (郎岱) that you are destroying stability a lot in this area. Really, I am afraid that later the country may suffer a serious harm. As the governor here, I come here to examine your doings. …... You said you come here to teach the Tchong-kia-tse(ethnic Dongzu). Teacher Wang also said the same thing. I am afraid that you are provoking a rebellion. As the governor, I require that you go to abandon this evil religion? ”


St. Agata Lin firmely replied: “I will not abandon it. Lu Da Shanren (卢大善 ) and Wang Shanren (王善人) are men. I am just a poor and humble woman, 5 virgin, and what I can do to destroy the public peace? Your great man ordered me to renounce my religion. How can I do that? I received it from my ancestors. A poor and humble woman, I adore the Supreme Spirit, the Highest God for everything. I cannot renounce my religion.”


“Nonsense! You are stupid! You even do not obey the governor. You do not know the difference between the governor and the Tchong-kia-tse(ethnic Dongzu). Ha! You come and conspire with Dong Jia zi! No doubt, you come to teach the 6 young people and the old people, even the governor orders you to renounce this sect and to rejoin your family, you refuse to obey, you look down upon the governor! I can sentence you to death, don't you understand?”


St Agata LIN Zhao was sentenced to death immediately.


The death penalty at that time had a procedure: the local governor had to report to the emperor to ratify the death penalty. According to “Laws and Regulations of the Qing Dynasty”(《大清律例》), the death penalty generally has two procedures: one is the execution immediately (斩立决), the other is a delayed execution (斩监侯). Normally, the death penalty would be carried out by hanging, in some most serious cases, it could be by beheading. In Chinese law and custom, beheading as a penalty was more serious than hanging. Nevertheless, both sentences needed to be ratified by the Qing Imperial Court (刑部) or by the emperor himself. Of course, there were exceptional cases that did not need the ratification of the Imperial Court, such as during a war. However, there are also other cases where the death penalty could be executed immediately in its place (就地正法), such as in the plot of treason (谋反), rebellion(叛乱) or gathering together to challenge the government(聚众抗官). According to the “laws and regulations of Qing Dynasty”, “Those who spread and promote sects are to be sentenced as slave to ethnic Elute according to the imperial edict, and in the case of those who escaped, on the recapture they were to be executed death immediately.”


During the rebellion of Heavenly Principles Sect (天理教) in Henan(河南) Province, Emperor Jiaqing(嘉庆) in September 1813 decreed that with regard to rebellions “on the one hand to record and report, and on the other hand to be executed to death immediately”. Possibly, this imperial edict could be the most recent example for local governors in Guizhou to deal with the matters of Catholic catechists. This imperial edict, in 1855, was influenced by the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) in Guangxi Province. The ethnic Miaozu, at that time, together with ethnic Dongzu in south-east of Guizhou, lead by Zhang Xiumei (张秀眉 1822-1872), started a rebellion at the end of 1855 and in September 1858 they even seized Zhenyuan county(镇远县), which is located east of Guiyang by about 250 kilometers.


Yet, how did the governor of Langdai dare to abuse his power to put the three catechists to death? It is evident that the governor of Langdai used the exceptional procedure to punish the three catechists with a death penalty under the guise of organizing a rebellion by the ethnic Dongzu, spreading a sect in the area and gathering together to disobey the government. Because of these three issues the governor of Langdai was able to abuse his power and sentence the three catechists to death in a way that “at one hand to record and report, and at the other hand to be executed death immediately”, a further factor was that in the same province the ethnic Miaozu and Dongzu were just rebelling and making war against the government army.


However, even in this case, following the Chinese custom then, the three catechists still had a chance to be saved from a death penalty. There was a very old Chinese custom called “Dadian” (打点) or “Dadian Dadian” for the prison guards and even for the local governor. If the relatives or friends of the one who was put into prison wanted him or her to be less tortured or to reduce the penalty or to have a little better board and lodging, they must give some money to the guards or the governor. This was called “Dadian” in Chinese and it was well-known, popular and semi-public custom in Chinese prison system. For example, if one was punished by a penalty of “Dabanzi”(打板子, beating on the buttock)which was a quite popular penalty for people given by the local governor according to laws that determined how many strikes should be beaten. If the guards got some money or “Dadian” they would beat the people very slightly, otherwise, they would beat the prisoner as heavy as normal. Even though there was a custom that “It is improper for men and women to touch each other's hand in passing objects”(男女授受不亲), however this penalty of “Dabanzi” was the same for both a man and a woman. However, this long standing Chinese custom “Dadian” was seen as bribery by the missionaries and the Chinese christians were forbidden to use “Dadian”. In a letter dated on 14th September 1858, eight month later after the three catechists were beheaded, Fr. Paul Perny (童文献), the pro-vicar apostolic of Guizhou made reports about the three martyrs and said also that whenever Christians were put in prison “it is a rule in the Mission of Kooytcheoo never to purchase life. If our neophytes are poor, we support them in prison; and this being done, their fate, like our own, is in the hands of God.”


St. Agata Lin, as a woman, followed another ancient Chinese custom, foot binding. Therefore, on the road to the bank of the river of Maokou, where she with Jerome Lu and Lawrence Wang would be beheaded, the soldiers seized her by the hair to train her move so that she can follow the others. Hundreds people, indifferent to what was happening, followed them just to see the death of the tree catechists. At the place nearby, the River-god Temple, Agata Lin was beheaded. The executioner were not accustomed to performing the penalty of beheading, so that he chopped several times to cut off the head of St. Agata Lin. According to the custom, the garments of those beheaded, and their shoes, etc. were shared by the executioners. The day is 28 January 1858. The heads of the three catechists were hung up in the trees along the road for some days. One of the executioners who beheaded Jerome Lu lived in the Maokou village, at least, till 1889. In 1890 when Mgr. Guichard visited the village he obtained the saber with which St. Jerome Lu was beheaded.


Then, in the afternoon of that day, the bodies of the three catechists were buried in a nearby place. St Jerome Lu's son buried his father. St Agata Lin and St. Lawrance Wang were buried by some Christians named Lou Lao-pe (卢老伯--音译), Pe-y(白义 音译)Pe San-ye(白三爷) and Lou Tin-chen(卢廷真音译). Their heads were still hanging by the roadside of Maokou as the custom for the great criminals. Some long time later, one month or three months, by the order of the local official, their heads were allowed to be taken down and to be buried in a hill in Maokou. According to the tradition for the great criminals, the heads of those executed were not allowed to be buried with their bodies. Only some time later, St. Jerome Lu's son took his father's head and buried together with the body. Five years later, on the night of 4th January 1860, Fr. Jean-Victor Muller, with the help of catechist Joseph Zhang and some Christians, collected the heads of those executed, and 6 days later the bones of three Saints were transferred to the missionary college at Lu Chongguan (鹿冲关, 贵阳北郊) in Guiyang. Fr. Paul Perny (童文献) received them in pleasure respectfully. There, the relics of the three Saints were in safe keeping.



Reflections on St. Agata LIN Zhao's life


On 2nd May 1909, Agata LIN Zhao was beatified by Pope Pius X and on March 10th , 2000 her canonization with other 120 Chinese Saints was announced by Pope John Paul II. St Agata Lin's feast is celebrated each year on 9th July, the feast of Chinese Blessings and Martyrs, in the Catholic Church's calendar.


Of course, there are many possible perspective for reflection on the life of a Saint. The well-know wisdom is from Tertullian, who wrote in the year 197: “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”. The first Christians at the beginning of Christianity witnessed to their Faith by offering their life. It is beyond doubt that their witness imitated their Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross and He taught his followers that "unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12: 24) The martyrs become the seed of Christians because the Seed, that is the Word of God, produces much fruit in their life. “The seed is the word of God. ”(Lk 8:11) The seed is the Word of God, that is Jesus Christ. Beyond all appearances, it is in keeping and spreading the Word of God that the martyrs offered their life once and completely. The Book of Revelation clearly states that “I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.”(6:9) The martyrs are identifying themselves with Christ. Identifying with Christ is asked for by Jesus Christ to his followers in their day to day life. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(Jn 8:12) Thus, in the Catholic Church there are not only martyr Saints but also other type of Saints, such as confessor of the faith. Canonization in the Catholic Church is a statement of the Church that the person certainly enjoys the Beatific Vision of Heaven. As Pope Francis said in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, “The processes of beatification and canonization recognize the signs of heroic virtue, the sacrifice of one’s life in martyrdom, and in certain cases where a life is constantly offered for others, even until death.”


We have the long parable of the sowing of the seed in Mt 13:1-43. Jesus Christ, explained this parable to his disciples. Nevertheless, his disciples did not seem to understand the parable quite well because later they approached him and asked: “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”(Mt 13: 36) Then, Jesus explained to them that “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one.”(Mt 13:37-38) However, Jesus did not stop here, he continued to say “and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.”(Mt 13:39)


The martyrs and the Saints are the good seed, the children of the Kingdom, in the field of the world. The good seeds have been sowed in the field of the world during their life time. The good seeds are growing little by little and “When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.”(Lk 13:19) The time that it is fully grown is the time of harvest, and “the harvest is the end of the age”. This perspective allows us to take in a much more longer historic view, in understanding martyrdom. Particularly in the postmodern and multi-religions world of today, seeing martyrdom in this historic view is extremely important for human society and culture.


As well as this long historic view, another point should be mentioned. The canonization of a Saint, even a martyr, is not the Church making a martyr or making a Saint, but, as Pope Francis said, is to “recognize the signs of heroic virtue, the sacrifice of one’s life in martyrdom, and certain cases where a life is constantly offered for others, even until death.” Therefore, from the life of a Saint we evidently can see “the signs of heroic virtue”, “the sacrifice of one's life in martyrdom” and “a life is constantly offered for others”. These elements or signs of the life of a Saint cannot be completely separated from one another since a human life is a life in its totality. Nevertheless, as Pope Francis said, “Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”


From the life of St. Agata LIN Zhao, we can see the signs of her heroic virtue, the sacrifice of being beheaded, and her life constantly offered for others. Reflecting on St. Agata Lin's life, we can obviously see the good seed, the Word of God, that she has sowed. She is keeping and spreading the word of God in the field of the world. St. Agata Lin is, in her life, building the “kingdom of love, justice and universal peace.” Jesus Christ, whom St. Agata Lin followed, is the perfect visible example of keeping and spreading the word of God because He himself is the Word of God. If we go into detail of St. Agata Lin's life, we will recognize that the seed is growing although it might be not very fast.


St. Agata Lin, in her life, has broken the Chinese custom of child marriage. There was a very popular Chinese tradition of pointing to the stomach where the unborn child would be and it was time for marriage(指腹为婚); or the girl child, at an early age, would be sold to the boy husband and sent to his home for marriage( 养媳). In both cases when they reached a certain age, they could get married. According to reports, even in the present times there were still some cases of child marriage in China, although according to present Chinese law the legal marriage age is 20 for a girl and 22 for a boy. Following the Chinese tradition, St. Agata Lin was also engaged at a very early age with another Catholic family by her parents. In following this custom, it was a simple way for both Catholic families to avoid their children marrying into a non-Catholic family. However, when St. Agata was growing up, she decided to follow a call to be a virgin to devote herself to God. Then, she has to break the early engagement made by her parents. Within the Chinese custom of the time, this would be seen as unbelievable. However, St. Agata Lin, following her conscience and her calling from God, made her decision and asked the missionary to help her to persuade the parents of both family not to proceed with this arrangement. Encouraged by her faith, St. Agata Lin firmly called off the child engagement that was one of most popular Chinese tradition in that time. Considering this popular bad Chinese custom in that time, wasn't this firmly calling off the child marriage engagement a sign of heroic virtue?


After calling off the engagement, St. Agata Lin devoted herself to God and to educate women and girls. A Chinese virgin (贞女) at that time was some one staying in family, not in a convent, but devoted her life to God and, under the guidance of the missionary, to educate women and girls, to teach the neophytes Catholic doctrine, to baptize the new converts and the abandoned infants, to care for orphans and attend to the medical cares centers opened by the Catholic Church. According to the records, in Guizhou Province from 1855-1859 there were 121,841 abandoned infants baptized.


In the year 1853 there were already four medical care pharmacies in Guiyang(贵阳 ), Dingfan(定番州), Duyun(都匀府)Zhenyuan(镇远府). The abandoned 16 infants were already in a very bad state of health, some were even dying, and many of the infants died after baptism. The Church baptized the dying infants because she believed that the baptized infants, if they dead before growing up and committed any sins by themselves, they would enter immediately to Heaven. In the year 1855 there were total 2,600 Catholics in Guizhou Province and ten years later in 1865 there were 5,200 Catholics. Comparing to the population in Guizhou, the Catholics were small and minority. However, there were good numbers of Chinese virgin in Guizhou Province.


In 1723 the Yongzheng Emperor began to expel foreign missionaries and later Qianlong Emperor in 1736 also decreed the prohibition of people to believe in Catholic Faith. During this persecution period, the virgins played a very important role in spreading the gospel. The virgins normally lead some small women communities in their nearby villages according to the arrangement of missionaries (including Chinese priests), both hidden in rural areas and working in the emperor's court.


Nevertheless, the virgins had to face a heavy social pressure. According to a long Chinese tradition in that time, a widower was highly praised and honored for not marrying again. There was a saying that a good women never marries a second husband (好女不嫁二夫). Some famous widows, who were widowed for a long time, could obtain an honorable decree from the emperor. But if a woman did not marry she would not be tolerated by her family and by the society. A Chinese priest, Fr. Li Ande(李安德), reported in 1748 that a clan elder refused to recognize his blood sister and granddaughter because they became a virgin. People in the village would gossip that they were vampires or sinister evil attempts behind the decision not to marry. The governor of Langdai in questioning St. Agata Lin showed this idea clearly. He said that “The whole world should get married. Renounce marriage, you are destroying the five relations necessary for human being.” The five relations were Emperor and Subjects(君臣)Father and Son(父子) Elder and Younger brothers(兄弟), Husband and Wife(夫妇) as well as Friends(朋友). These five relations were under the three cardinal guiding principles, namely Emperor guides the Subjects(君为臣 ), Father guides the Sons(父为子纲), Husband guides the Wives(夫为妻纲). That was the reason that the governor of Langdai considered that a woman who did not marry was destroying the five relations.


However, even under this heavy family and social pressure, the virgin group in Guizhou Province as well as in other provinces developed very well. “The Christian virgins phenomenon was initiated by the Chinese themselves. In the beginning all Christian virgins were Chinese women. They chose not to marry and devote themselves to religious life. Albeit at the beginning they obviously intended to limit themselves for a life of meditation, but in 1770s, they accepted the mission for apostolate and social works.” Then, the missionaries in Guizhou and nearby province of Sichuan developed some regulations for the Chinese virgins. They would educate themselves in reading and writing, even though they were from a poor family. This was an obviously breaking through in the long Chinese tradition that girls seldom could get some education. Also, they started to make decision for themselves through having a devoted celibacy life. In some cases they would have a public vows in front of Catholic people. Besides these, the Chinese virgins could guide a female school as leader and teacher if their education and personality qualified them like St. Agata Lin. This was also a significant break-through in the long Chinese tradition that only men could teach and dominate women under one of the three cardinal guiding principles. St. Agata Lin, a Chinese virgin, a Chinese female, in living her faith became an educated leader and teacher in a male dominated rural Chinese villages, even if only in a female school. What a significant sign of heroic virtue in the Chinese traditional culture under the heavy unjust social pressure! Could we not say this was a kind of persecution for St. Agata Lin even if the Saint was not beheaded? In fact, Saint Ambrose has said, when the external persecutions had ended in his time, that “How many today are Christ’s secret martyrs, bearing witness to the Lord Jesus!” (Comment for psalm 118).


St. Agata Lin's life was constantly offered for others, especially for those uneducated ethnic women and girls. This constant offering of her life for others was significant in that time. The women and girls groups that St. Agata Lin was leading and educating were mostly Dongzu Ethnic. In the time of Qing Dynasty, these ethnic minorities were discriminated by the Han nation. The governor Dai from Langdai clearly showed his attitude to the ethnic Dongzu: “You are a noble race of Chinese, how can you come so far to instruct Tchong-kia-tse.” “You are all race of Han Chinese, but you are doing well with the families of Tchong-kia-tse(ethnic Dongzu)!” In the eyes of governor Dai the ethnic Dongzu, especially the women, were not worthy of being educated. Even to get along well with them was wrong and should be avoided. However, St. Agata Lin as a female of Han nationality did not take this attitude and encouraged by her Catholic faith she knew that the ethnic Dongzu “young girls ignore our language and our custom” and she came to teach them so that “they can more easily have conversation with their parents and their husband.” This basic education for the ethnic Dongzu women and girls were greatly needed! It is true that at that time nearly all women in China lacked basic education. However, St Agata Lin was instructing the discriminated ethnic Dongzu women! That shows the significant sign of her heroic virtue and her life constantly offered for others who were un-justly discriminated against by her own Han nation. In her life which she constantly offered for others, St Agata Lin was promoting equity among the nations by leading and educating the ethnic Dongzu women and girls. The purpose of her doing was not only spreading the gospel and teaching Catholic doctrine to the ethnic Dongzu women, but, as the Saint has said, “at the end, these young girls can get their own honor that belongs to them.” Helping people to get their own honor and their own dignity, that was the end St Agata Lin for which constantly offered her life. It is evident that in St. Agata Lin's vision this end could be reached through Catholic faith as instructed by her, and in her leading and teaching groups of ethnic Dongzu women and girls.


St Agata Lin not only constantly offered her life for this end but also sacrificed her life totally. Obviously, it is possible that if the Christians and missionaries followed the Chinese bad tradition or custom to make some “Dadian” or, in other words, bribery, St Agata Lin and other two Saints would have not been beheaded by the governor of Langdai. Yet, the missionaries had their principles that “it is a rule in the Mission of Kooy-tcheoo never to purchase life. If our neophytes are poor, we support them in prison; and this being done, their fate, like our own, is in the hands of God.” In fact St. Jerome Wang's family was rich enough to “Dadian Dadian”(打点 打点). But, the Christians in Maokou kept their faith and observed the rule of the Church, and they did not engage in bribery or they did not purchase life!


Nevertheless, this could be considered by Chinese custom as foolish because the Christians did not want to spend money to purchase life. St Agata Lin and the other Christians in Maokou witnessed in their life the truth that “Dadian” or bribery was a bad and dark custom that should be destroyed. They, following Jesus Christ, the light of the world, walked out of the darkness of life and the darkness of the culture, and by totally offering their life they witnessed to the light of the life and the light of the civilization.




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