Home > Archives > 07/08 - 2005 > I would only ask the Pope: pray for us
from issue no. 07/08 - 2005

The new auxiliary bishop of Shanghai seen close up

I would only ask the Pope: pray for us

by Gianni Valente

Two moments of the Sunday mass celebrated by Monsignor Joseph Xing 
in Zikawei Cathedral, 10 July last

Two moments of the Sunday mass celebrated by Monsignor Joseph Xing in Zikawei Cathedral, 10 July last

The day he became bishop, some priests from the underground communities of Shanghai had asked to attend the mass for his episcopal ordination. The government did not give permission, allowing access to the church only to priests regularly registered in the lists of the Office for Religious Affairs. But the episode is undoubtedly a good omen for the delicate reconciliatory mission that awaits the forty-two year old Joseph Xing Wenzhi, for now auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. Also the Christians of the “underground” communities, who celebrate the sacraments in houses, so avoiding attending the churches of the dioceses registered by government organizations, know (and acknowledge) his simple faith and humility. Old Alphonsus, who every Saturday hosts in his poor and untidy house fifteen friends who assist at the mass of an “underground” priest, explains it well: «Everyone knows that Joseph is a good priest, simple and honest. When he was rector of the seminary, and his seminarians went out in the evening to go to the cinema a few times a year, he stayed at home alone, acting as doorman and answering the phone …». And he adds: «The “underground” bishop and the priests obey the Holy See. We only regret that during the ordination ceremony of the new auxiliary bishop not a word was said about the approval received from the Holy See».

You were a child during the Cultural Revolution. During the years in which all Christian practice was prohibited by the government and Mao proclaimed: «Religion in China does not exist anymore» …
JOSEPH XING WENZHI: I was baptized when I was eight days old. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. You couldn’t go to church. They were all closed, destroyed or destined for other uses. To pray, you closed the door of the house. The most important things for me in those years were the bow to the Lord and the evening prayers to Jesus, Joseph and Mary before going to sleep. Afterwards we went to bed and the adults continued to pray. I remember that I slipped into sleep listening to their prayers. Then, some priests began to be seen going around in 1977. The first time I went into a church was in 1978. My father took me, it was seventy kilometers from our village.
How did you think of becoming a priest?
XING: To tell the truth at the beginning it wasn’t that I thought about it a lot. When the seminary in Sheshan also opened its doors to those who came from my province, an elderly cousin of mine submitted my name. They gave us a type of catechism exam, and of ten candidates from the Shandong six of us were admitted.
You began your preparation in the seminary of Sheshan, and finished it in America…
XING: I was in the United States from January 2003 until May 2004. First in New York State, as a guest of Maryknoll, and then taking courses in Washington, at the Catholic University of America. But then I had to return in a hurry …
Will you have priorities in your new role as bishop?
XING: For now I am helping Bishop Jin. Already in the months before ordination I traveled around the parishes, I was in the seminary, in the houses of the nuns and the elderly priests, in the hospice for the old. I stayed every place for a week, to get to know the problems of the different situations. I hope to work so that the Church will continue to grow in unity and peace, overcoming the conflicts between priests and faithful. And that, being united, it can operate better for the good of society, for example by helping the elderly who are increasingly more abandoned. Because the Church lives within society, it is not a world separated from human reality. According to me it is necessary to do as Matteo Ricci…
Which means?
XING: Everyone acknowledged that he, being Christian, did good for the society of his time. He had come from Italy, but he identified with the Chinese, becoming one of them. And doing good works to their advantage, he aroused sympathy for Christianity.
Does the faith that resisted in the midst of persecutions seem to be fading now?
XING: During the persecutions there was an attack that came from outside – the Red Guards, the Cultural Revolution – and this pushed souls to seek help from God. To pray. They were afraid of losing the faith. And so they said: Jesus take me in your arms and protect me. Now, at least here in Shanghai, it seems that all are masters of their own existence. That there is no need to ask help of anyone, and everything takes place in the intimacy of one’s own heart.
Since then everything seems changed. Whoever goes to Zikawei today finds a church like all the others, attended by Christians who don't need to hide themselves anymore to say prayers and make communion. «If there are the open churches», says Father Joseph Liu, «why hide yourself in a house to say mass. At least here in Shanghai, there's no need to be heroes anymore».
The old priests say: they all think about making money, and don’t come to church anymore…
XING: It’s not that they don’t want to, but they work a great deal, they have a lot to do… According to me, those of middle-age who are called the “lost generation”, because they were young in the years of the Cultural Revolution, have true questions that are buried and blossom in their hearts.
And the young?
XING: They too live a convulsed life. They buy up many things. But then perhaps dissatisfaction sets in. A type of boredom. A confused waiting for something big, for an infinite good. Such as the good that Jesus wishes for each one of us.
Bishop Jin told us that in the beginning you didn’t want to accept the nomination as bishop. What convinced you in the end?
XING: In the beginning I was hesitant, because my inadequacies were before my eyes. I said to myself: «I’m not sufficiently intelligent, shrewd, I don’t speak languages…». Then I thought: I am in the hands of God, who can do everything with me. If I’m incapable, he’ll help me. And the more I am incapable, the more will it be seen that it is all his work. As Saint Paul said: «When I am weak, then I am strong».
If you could say one thing to the Pope, in order to help him understand the current situation of the Church in China, what would you say to him?
XING: The Chinese love the Pope. They loved John Paul II, who had the Church in China in his heart. They also love the new Pope. It is certainly not I who needs to explain to the Pope how things are. In Rome there are people who know well what the situation is. I would only ask him: Holy Father pray for us.

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