by Joseph Han Zhi-hai,
Bishop of Lanzhou*
Lanzhou (Agenzia Fides) - To Fides: May the peace of the Lord always be with you all! I greet you on behalf of a bishop from the far west of China and I thank you for your constant attention to the current situation of the Church in China. We always hope that good news will enliven the life of our communities. Good news is what we all hope for. And in our lives we often see new fruit ripening. I myself experience many things that flourish by the grace of Christ also in our Church, in the state in which it finds itself.
I was ordained a Bishop in 2003, and in these 20 years the journey has essentially been a journey that always goes forward. There have certainly been many issues and emergencies to deal with, both internal and external.
In 2003, I was a young Bishop, and I wrote and distributed a letter-appeal. In this letter, I asked all the so-called "clandestine" brother Bishops like me to take courage, to be recognized by the political authorities, to accept the laws of the State and thus live openly in full communion with the Universal Church, even in the context of their particular condition. Twenty years later, I perceive that a path of growth has been followed.
A few years after my episcopal ordination, Pope Benedict XVI himself wrote that "clandestinity" is not the normal condition in which the Church is called to accomplish her mission. This is why I believe that we must respect the law of our country and carry out our apostolic work of proclaiming the Gospel within the framework of the legislation in force in our country. We have to deal with so many problems that often bother and worry us. Life is hard, for so many reasons! But the Church is moving forward and carrying out its work and its mission in this situation.
In carrying out our apostolic and pastoral work, we have only observed the existence of a new situation, in many respects different from that of previous decades. And slowly, even where there was nothing, something began to emerge.
Everyone worked hard, tirelessly. Thus, in 20 years, we have built or renovated 20 relatively large churches. We have trained more than 20 priests. We have accompanied the growth of 3 congregations with 136 religious sisters. Although there are difficulties of all kinds, with the help and closeness of the whole Church, we can face them, even if they are not easy. For it is God who takes care of his Church and makes it work. His gifts cannot be expressed in a few words. And of course, we must always be able to count on the prayers of the whole Catholic Church for us.
What hurts us the most and torments us the most are the situations of disunity and heartbreak between brothers.
In 2017, the government allowed me to be recognized by civil authorities. An official inauguration celebration was therefore organized in the diocese. Some brothers did not accept it and there was still no path of reconciliation. This is why I ask the whole Church to pray for us, asking that the Lord help me not to be a prisoner of my limits, to overcome divisions with everyone. Pray for us, and pray for me!
* (Note: Joseph Han Zhi–hai was born in 1966, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. During those years, his family was kept in faith simply by praying at home. His vocation flourished by observing a priest who, in 1978, after 30 years of imprisonment and isolation, as soon as he regained his freedom, without complaining he resumed proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating baptisms in the villages and in the countryside.
Joseph Han was ordained bishop of Lanzhou (province of Gansu) in 2003, with the appointment of the Pope, and without the recognition of the Chinese government. As soon as he was ordained, Joseph Han wrote an open letter inviting all the Chinese bishops to overcome their dissensions and to confess together their communion among themselves and with the Pope.
In 2017, Joseph Han also sought and obtained recognition of his status as a bishop by the Chinese political apparatus.
The text published above is a brief message sent to Agenzia Fides by Archbishop Han, on the occasion of his 20 years of episcopate, an anniversary also commemorated during the Eucharistic liturgy (see photo) presided over by the bishop himself, on Sunday March 19, in the Cathedral of Lanzhou. (GV). (Agenzia Fides 20/3/2023).