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Chinese bishop who resisted government pressure dies aged 90

Worshippers at a Catholic church in Taiyuan, China (CNS)

Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin of Anyang, who only accepted government recognition on the basis that he did not have to join a state-approved organisation,  has died at the age of 90.

Before his ordination as bishop in 2004, Bishop Zhang Huaixin ensured that he would not have to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which was set up by the Communist government to supervise Chinese Catholics. It has been repeatedly condemned by the Vatican. reported that Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Zhang Yinlin, 45, automatically succeeds him, according to canon law. The young prelate was the first Chinese bishop with dual approval from China and the Vatican since 2012.

Due to the elderly Bishop Zhang Huaixin’s stance, when Bishop Zhang Yinlin was ordained in 2015, all bishops involved in the ceremony were Vatican-approved; there was no pressure to allow an illicitly ordained bishop to take part, as has happened at some other episcopal ordinations in China.

The late bishop was lauded as a teacher and role model for Chinese Catholics.

“I was most impressed by his teaching on money and women,” Father Li Jisheng of Anyang told “He used to remind us clergy that there will be no problem with our clerical life as long as the ledger is clear, having little desire on wealth, and keeping a distance from women.”

The funeral Mass for Bishop Zhang Huaixin will be celebrated in the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Anyang May 14.

“The late bishop had suffered from diabetes and a heart problem for years. He was rushed to hospital on May 6 after he complained of dizziness,” Father Li said.

The priest said he visited Bishop Zhang Huaixin the day before he died, showing him archived photos of him as a young seminarian.

“He had a clear mind when we visited him on May 7. … He could recognize his classmates and the seminary rector,” he said.

Bishop Zhang Huaixin was born May 23, 1925, and was ordained in 1950. He was deemed a “rightist” by the government in 1958, spending six years in labour camps, and suffered for his faith during the political turmoil that lasted for decades until 1978.

After his government rehabilitation in 1980, he was secretly ordained bishop of Anyang the following year and lived and worked without government recognition.

In 2004, once he was certain he could accept government recognition without joining the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, he agreed to be openly installed as bishop, AsiaNews reported at the time.

Anyang Diocese now has 30 priests and 129 nuns from St. Joseph Convent; they serve 50,000 Catholics.