On 22 September 2018 in Beijing, the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China signed a “Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops”. Previously, on 8 September 2018, after much reflection and prayer, the Successor of Peter magnanimously received into full ecclesial communion seven Chinese Bishops, consecrated without papal mandate.
In this context, Pope Francis invited all the Bishops to renew their total adherence to Christ and to the Church. He also reminded them that, as members of the Chinese people, they are obliged to show respect and loyalty to the civil authorities, while, as Bishops, they are called to be faithful to the Gospel, in accordance with the teaching of Jesus himself: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21).
Furthermore, the Holy Father has given each Bishop a diocesan pastoral assignment, taking into due account specific complex local situations. The Most Reverend Joseph Guo Jincai has been called to carry out episcopal ministry as the first Bishop of Chengde; the Most Reverend Joseph Huang Bingzhang, as Bishop of Shantou; the Most Reverend Joseph Liu Xinhong, as Bishop in Anhui; the Most Reverend Joseph Ma Yinglin, as Bishop of Kunming; the Most Reverend Joseph Yue Fusheng, as Bishop in Heilongjiang; the Most Reverend Vincent Zhan Silu, as Bishop of Funing/Mindong; and the Most Reverend Paul Lei Shiyin, as Bishop of Leshan.
Together with these provisions, the Most Reverend Vincent Guo Xijin has become Auxiliary Bishop of Funing/Mindong, and the Most Reverend Peter Zhuang Jianjian Bishop Emeritus of Shantou. As for their pastoral responsibilities, the nine Bishops received the announcement from the Holy See on 12 December 2018 in Beijing, in the context of a sober ceremony marked by intense ecclesial communion, concluding with the praying of the Our Father and the singing of the Hail Mary in a traditional Chinese melody.
Finally, it is a matter of great ecclesial significance that the Most Reverend Anthony Tu Shihua, O.F.M., some months before his death on 4 January 2017, had asked to be readmitted to full communion with the Successor of Peter, who embraced him as Bishop Emeritus of Puqi.
To better appreciate the ecclesial and pastoral significance of these events, it is fitting to recall what Pope Francis pointed out in his “Message to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church” of 26 September 2018:
“Precisely for the sake of supporting and promoting the preaching of the Gospel in China and re-establishing full and visible unity in the Church, it was essential, before all else, to deal with the issue of the appointment of bishops. Regrettably, as we know, the recent history of the Catholic Church in China has been marked by deep and painful tensions, hurts and divisions, centred especially on the figure of the bishop as the guardian of the authenticity of the faith and as guarantor of ecclesial communion” (No. 3).
Now it is important to build unity among Catholics and begin “a phase of greater fraternal cooperation, in order to renew our commitment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. For the Church exists for the sake of bearing witness to Jesus Christ and to the forgiving and saving love of the Father” (Message, No. 4).
The Holy See continues to be committed to following the path of dialogue, so as to resolve gradually, in a spirit of mutual understanding and far-sighted patience, the various problems that still exist, beginning with the civil recognition of the “non-official” clergy, with the aim of further normalizing the life of the Catholic Church in China. (Agenzia Fides, 8/2/2019)