HONG KONG (UCAN): In the second such significant incident in two weeks, China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church approved and installed Bishop Peter Li Huiyuan of the Diocese of Fengxiang, in Shaanxi province, in a June 22 ceremony at St. Joseph’s Cathedral overseen by Bishop Dang Mingyan, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
The 55-year-old Bishop Li is the fourth bishop of the unofficial Church to be approved by the state-sanctioned official Church since the Vatican and China signed an agreement in September 2018 on the appointment of bishops.
Some 150 people, including bishops in the region and lay representatives of Bishop Li’s diocese, attended the ceremony.
Bishop Dang, seen as the head of the official Church, presented Bishop Li with the mitre, sceptre and ring—all symbols of the leadership and pastoral duties of a Catholic bishop.
Bishop Li celebrated the Mass during the ceremony. He promised to abide by China’s constitution, uphold the unity of the motherland and social harmony, and love the country and religion.
He and the people his diocese will “insist on the independence of our own Church, on the direction of Chinese Catholicism and on contributing to the realisation of the Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation and its strength,” he vowed.
Bishop Li’s approval follows the public installation, on June 9 of 83-year-old Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan of Fuzhou, in Fujian province (Sunday Examiner, June 21).
The Vatican appointed Bishop Li coadjutor bishop without publicly announcing it.
Bishops at a 2011 regional synod elected him following all the regulations of the CCPA. The State officials were invited to supervise the election and to confirm that it was in accordance with the laws. The election was declared valid, but the CCPA refused to give a date for the consecration.
However, Bishop Li’s predecessor Bishop Lucas Li Jingfeng died on 17 November 2017, leaving the leadership of the diocese to Bishop Li, who was then not recognised by the government.
The Diocese of Fengxiang did not register with CCPA until May 2019 when a CCPA unit was established in the diocese and Bishop Li was elected as its chairperson.
The other two bishops recognised by China following the Vatican-China agreement were Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou and Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang. Bishop Zhuang retired immediately in January 2019. Eight days later, Bishop Jin was approved.
The Vatican-China deal on bishops is due for revision and renewal in September.
Episcopal appointments remain a thorny issue as the Vatican insists they are its prerogative. But China looks at the issue as interference by a foreign power in the internal affairs of the nation and wants to appoint bishops on its own.
The 2018 agreement, the details of which are still secret, is considered a landmark development since the Vatican and China severed diplomatic relations in 1951.