Wenzhou (AsiaNews) – Mgr Peter Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou, returned to Wenzhou two days ago. He went missing into police hands on 18 May, kept in a secret place for 27 days. His disappearance came after he was summoned for a “conversation” with the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau.
He is not free in the ordinary sense of the word because he came back to Wenzhou with a police escort. Mgr Shao is under control because he belongs to the underground community, whose actions (Masses, meetings, and catechesis in unregistered places) are deemed “criminal”.
Although a member of the unofficial community, Mgr Shao is bishop of Wenzhou and has been recognised by the Holy See, a fact that the Religious Affairs Ministry does not accept.
According to some Catholics in Wenzhou, during the 27 days of forced absence, Mgr Shao took part in a “religious seminar” that had two purposes.
The first one was to get him to ask the Vatican to appoint right away a co-adjutor bishop from the official community, with membership in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). The faithful explain that although the CPCA wants to impose the method of “autonomy” and self-ordination”, the approval of the Holy See is necessary for the new bishop to be accepted by the community.
The second reason for the “religious seminary” was to convince Mgr Shao to join the CPCA and participate in the Council of Bishops. The CPCA wants to build a Chinese Church independent of the Holy See and the Council of Bishops embraces all official bishops, including those not nominated by the Vatican and in a position of excommunication. It excludes unofficial bishops. A Letter from Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics – which Pope Francis often praises – states that the principles on which the two bodies are founded are “incompatible with Catholic doctrine”.
Mgr Shao had also been abducted by police in April, a few days before Easter. His diocese of Wenzhou has been deeply divided between the official and underground Christian communities. It is estimated that it has some 120,000 members, more than 80,000 in the underground group. Its 50 or so priests are evenly divided between the two branches.
In the recent past, the Holy See has sought to reconcile the communities by nominating Mgr Zhu Weifang (now deceased) as ordinary bishop and Mgr Shao as bishop with right of succession. According to the faithful, who love and respect Mgr Shao, “the local government does everything to keep us divided”.