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from issue no. 07/08 - 2005


The marathons of little steps

by Gianni Valente

Bishop Aloysius Jin beside the commemorative plate of his twenty years as bishop of Shanghai

Bishop Aloysius Jin beside the commemorative plate of his twenty years as bishop of Shanghai

The enormous platter with the image of Pope Ratzinger in the secretariat of Monsignor Aloysius Jin Luxian is not very appealing, he finds it kitsch. But his friends could not find better as a souvenir to pay homage to his twenty years of being a bishop.
Up to some time ago, the cumbersome souvenir commissioned for the anniversary of an episcopal ordination such as that received by the then seventy-year old Jesuit in 1985, with the consent of the Peking government but without the apostolic mandate, that is the approval of the Bishop of Rome, might also have been judged irreverent by some.
But today he too – as he reveals in the interview that follows – knows that he has been recognized and legitimated implicite as bishop by the Apostolic See. And even the large platter with the image of the new Pope imparting a blessing on it does not seem an exaggerated homage for one, like him, who after almost five five-year periods of prison and enforced domicile, moved for another almost twenty years along border lands and gray areas full of spiritual and bodily traps. Supporting ad maiorem Dei gloriam also the silent martyrdom of being branded for years as a usurper of sacred things, of conniving with the persecutors of the Church. Traps and wrongs also dribbled with the astute permeating wisdom of sensus fidei with which, before beginning the interview, he points out that «the whole truth cannot be told because it would be a risk, there would be a risk of doing harm to the Church» and that «it must always be remembered that everything goes slowly in China. And whoever goes slowly goes far».

For years more or less it has been known who your successor would be. Why was it necessary to wait such a long time?
ALOYSIUS JIN LUXIAN: The Congregation of Propaganda Fide hesitated, because there were other candidates to evaluate. Then the new bishop Joseph is very shy and didn’t want to accept. He said: I am too young, and the situation in China is too complicated. There is the government, the Communist party, the Patriotic Association, the underground Catholic communities, the “open” Churches … then finally he accepted.
You advocated his election. What makes you think that he will be a good bishop?
JIN: When he arrived here twenty-two years ago from his village in Shandong to begin the seminary, one saw that he was an intelligent, honest, religious young person, of a very traditional doctrine. His is a family of Catholic peasants, his brothers also work in the fields. Because of this I soon asked his bishop to give him to me so that he could be incardinated into the diocese of Shanghai. After ordination I asked him to be spiritual director and professor in the seminary, and then I sent him to a parish. He was also chancellor of the diocese, before becoming episcopal vicar and rector of the seminary. I asked him to accompany me on my journeys abroad, so that he could also see how the Church is outside China. We were together in Australia and once we made a trip of forty days to Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. Then to prepare himself, he was almost two years in the United States. Now I will assist him still for two years and then it will be he who will lead the diocese.
During the liturgy of ordination, how was it made public that the new bishop was nominated by the Pope?
JIN: Everyone knew. There were also a dozen priests from France, Germany, the United States, including the superiors of the missionary society of Maryknoll. There was also a priest invited personally by the Bishop of Hong Kong Joseph Zen, who before the ordination had preached the spiritual exercises to father Xing …
Yes, agreed. But was there a moment in the ceremony in which it was declared explicitly that the new bishop was nominated by the Bishop of Rome?
JIN: There was no need. He was nominated by Rome, but Rome is very discreet, it does not wish to give the impression of interfering.
You were the consecrating bishop. It was always said that you, as bishop, had never received the apostolic mandate from the Holy See and were therefore a canonically illegitimate bishop. But if Rome nominated a bishop consecrated by you, does this mean that it also legitimated you?
JIN: It did so implicite, implicitly. Because Rome expressly asked that I be the consecrating bishop. It said: Bishop Jin must consecrate Bishop Joseph. A direction that reached me through Propaganda Fide, because you know that the Churches of Asia and Africa depend on Propaganda Fide …
But did you ever make a request to be recognized and legitimated as bishop? Your detractors say not.
JIN: I hoped for the recognition of Rome. I expressed this hope verbally, because in these things it is the most discreet way. And Rome, through this direction, showed me implicitly that I was recognized.
You will have been happy …
It is my joy. I believe that Rome is intelligent and also discreet. I believe it understands the situation, which is complex.
Bishop Aloysius Jin

Bishop Aloysius Jin

For years you suffered the attacks of those who defined you a puppet of the Chinese government …
JIN: I must, I don’t say collaborate, but at least dialogue with the government, because I must protect the diocese. If I put myself in a closed position and oppose, everything becomes complicated. It is necessary to be diplomatic, use tact. We are not in Italy, or in the United States. Some accuse me of excessive closeness to the government. But to do what? To allow the diocese to live. Now we have more than seventy priests, a hundred and twenty seminarians in the major seminary, thirty in the minor one, ninety young nuns, more than a hundred parishes, a publishing house, a printing press. And all of this must be allowed to live, with the government there is, which is a legitimate government. The Church has never been opposed in principle to legitimate governments. It is not necessary for the faith.
From the times of ancient Rome, which also persecuted the Christians …
JIN: If the government does not ask things that are bad for the faith, it is necessary to respect the laws and regulations of the government.
Have the underground communities given signs of opening toward the new bishop, or have they hardened?
JIN: When they heard of the possible nomination, almost a year ago, and that their underground bishop would not have a successor, they were unhappy. But they have accepted, even if some against their wills. They said: we accept the decision of the Pope. Now the underground bishop has Alzheimers. And Rome hopes in the unity of all the Catholics of Shanghai under one single bishop. But it will take time, to change the mentality. It will not happen immediately.
But do the underground communities also have control of places of worship, as happens in other parts of China?
JIN: The priests who the government consider “underground” say the divine office in their own families, and celebrate mass in the houses of the faithful. They don’t have churches, because they refuse to be made register themselves as priests by the offices of the government. It seems to me too radical a position. Now everything is changed. Shanghai is changed, the communists are also changed, they have become capitalists… [he laughs]. There is the free market. Shanghai is another city. There are other problems. We must also change.
How come that sometimes the detentions and arrests, even recent, of some underground priests took place far from their cities of residence?
JIN: Cardinal Josef Tomko, when he was Prefect of Propaganda Fide, gave some directives where among other things it was established that the bishops ordained in clandestine fashion had jurisdiction in all of China, without taking into account the division of dioceses. One hears tell of young underground priests who travel all over China with a car and a mobile phone. They think they are authorized to carry out their apostolate in this way. And this is not prudent at least.

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