Whenever we think our bishops have it tough in Britain 2016 perhaps on account of the media and modern society grilling them as to why they oppose anti-life legislation and because they are seen as diametrically opposed to the government on gay marriage laws, we might consider the lot of prelates in China who have known direct persecution at the hands of the Chinese government.
One such fearless shepherd was the recently deceased Bishop Zhang Huaixin who died a few weeks shy of his 91st birthday. Ordained at the age of 25, he was only in his 30s when he was called a ‘rightist’ by the government and spent six gruelling years in labour camps. Being in captivity and working like a slave sounds bad enough, but during his time in the camp, he underwent “re-education”; his captors attempted to brainwash his faith out of him.
After his release, he spent the coming decades dodging membership of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, an arm of the Communist government that keeps watch on Chinese Roman Catholics. According to this obituary by his friend, Fr Sergio Ticozzi, it was only in 1980, 30 years after he was ordained, that he was rehabilitated and given permission to be in active ministry.
But Bishop Huaixin was always aware of being under surveillance because, as Fr Ticozzi relates, they spoke in Latin when they met in public for fear of eavesdroppers.
It is inspiring to look at the personal faith life of a stalwart like Bishop Huaixin. The faith was the very thing he fought for and that which sustained him. He took a lot of strength from helping other Chinese Catholics who had vocations. Fr Ticozzi remembers that “he was especially attentive to the formation of the clergy and the development of the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph, who flourished in great numbers”.
Another priest, Fr Li Jisheng, recalls that Bishop Huaixin was not afraid to give stern advice, frequently reminding clergy to beware of becoming fond of money and to keep a sensible space between them and women for fear either developed feelings that could never be acted on.
Bishop Huaixin’s funeral Mass will be celebrated tomorrow at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Anyang. Often we can assume that heroic figures like Bishop Huaixin are not in need of prayers for their soul, but praying for them after they have gone to God is exactly what such prelates like Bishop Huaixin would want.