Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – About 200 Hong Kong Catholics attended a Mass dedicated to Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding, who has been forcibly disappeared for 20 years. Bishop Michael Yeung of Hong Kong presided over the evening Mass on Oct 11 organized by the diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) at the St Andrew’s Church.
When greeting the faithful in the Introductory Rites of the Mass, Bishop Yeung said off the cuff from the printed liturgy leaflet that he prayed that Bishop Su could “regain freedom and return to his flock that entrusted to him by God” if he is still alive.
In his homily, Bishop Yeung said the church will diminish in good time but will grow strong in time of persecution as “we often heard the saying that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
He encouraged the congregants “not to fear in face of difficulties” since no one would live forever and that “everything is in the hand of the eternal God.” However, he stressed that one should not resort to violence when voicing out opposition.
The bishop said “the Church particularly emphasizes seeking for dialogue. We should have positive faith on God and not give up even others do not want to dialogue with you,” he said, adding that in dialogue, “we could not abandon our main principles while minor matters could leave aside first.”
Or Yan-yan, a JPC project officer, said the Mass was organized on the occasion of Bishop Su’s forced disappearance 20 years ago at Xinji city in Hebei province on Oct 8, 1997.
“It was terrible thing that a person could be disappeared for two decades and it would not be right if the Church itself does not voice out for its bishop,” she said.
“Even if grand churches were built in the past decades, they are only hardware. The essence [of China’s religious situation] has not changed as we could see the authorities continue to take away and detain clergy at discretion, such as Father Liu Honggen of Baoding, Coadjutor Bishop Cui Tai of Xuanhau and Bishop Peter Shao of Wenzhou,” she continued. “They are real living cases that show to us that we really need to pray for the Church in China,” she added.
Bishop Su, aged 85, was arrested for several times since 1956 and has been under detention and imprisonment for almost half of his life.
Along with the Mass was the publication of a Chinese booklet on Bishop Su in both printed and electronic editions (https://issuu.com/christineor/docs/a5_booklet_single). Besides history of the bishop between 1950s and 1990s, there are also local Catholics recalling their impression of the bishop and how he influenced their faith.
Or Yan-yan said many faithful may know the basic profile of Bishop Su such as the date of his ordination as priest and bishop. “But I believe it is good for people to know also his conviction as there must be something that he makes him hold firm to his faith.”
Baoding is a stronghold of the underground church community in Hebei, which is the largest Catholic province in China with about one million Catholic population.
Bishop Su was ordained Coadjutor Bishop of Baoding in 1993 and became the ordinary of the diocese in 1995. He and his Auxiliary Bishop Francis An Shuxin were arrested together two years later in 1997.
Bishop An was released in 2006 after 10 years of detention. In 2007, he was appointed by the Vatican as coadjutor bishop as when Bishop Su was still under detention in unknown location..
However, in 2009, he joined the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which split the diocese further between the underground and open communities. Under the government permission, Bishop An was installed as the head of the diocese in 2010, leading the open community.