|Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, S.J.|
Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, of Shanghai, a leader of China’s underground Catholic community, died March 15. He was 96. He refused to recognize the Chinese government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. So, he served in prison with other priests, who were arrested in 1955, during a government crackdown. From 1958 to 1978, Fan was imprisoned in Qinghai Province. There, his work included carrying corpses to the cemetery, reports Ucanews. China claims it has 23 million Christians, 11 million of them Catholics. “The real number is somewhere between 60 to 130 million”, the Economist estimates. Shanghai refused permission that the funeral mass be held at St Ignatius Cathedral. Instead, it limited rites for Bishop Fan to an open courtyard at the funeral home.
Chinese Catholics are divided between two communities. One group refuses to “render to Ceasar the things that are God’s”’ and therefore, driven underground. The Vatican accepts the other, with some compromises, to continue its existence. Both stand with the pope. Both face persecution from Chinese authorities, as have other Christian denominations.
“The more persecution, the more the church grows,” said Protestant Pastor Samuel Lamb in 1993. He died in 2013, age 88. His 20 years of jail and forced labor followed an earlier two-year sentence. Some 30,000 people attended his memorial service. Police constantly pressured Lamb to comply with official doctrine and register with the government. He always refused, as did Joseph Fan. “China strictly regulates the religious activities of Uighur Muslims,” the latest US State Department report on religious freedom notes. “…It harassed or detained Catholic clergy not affiliated with the government Catholic Patriotic Association... Some 83 Tibetan monks, nuns, and laypersons increasingly sought to express despair and dissent by selfimmolating in 2012.” Fan was baptized a Catholic in 1932, joined the Society of Jesus in 1938. He was named Shanghai bishop by John Paul II in 2000. But the Communist Party refused to recognize him. Ceasar rendered to itself what belonged to God. Security police arrested Fan repeatedly and ransacked his flat. In 1992, the accounts of the entire Shanghai underground church were closed down. His intended successor was Thaddeus Ma Daqin, but he too was taken into custody in 2012 after he quit the government association.