Chinese bishop who suffered years of forced labor dies at 98

Rome Newsroom, May 26, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Chinese underground bishop who was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor in the 1980s for bringing Catholics on pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan died this month at the age of 98.

Joseph Zhu Baoyu, bishop emeritus of Nanyang, made headlines in February for reportedly being the oldest person to recover from the coronavirus. Three months after his release from the hospital, Zhu died in his sleep on May 7 under the care of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.

He was one of three elderly underground Chinese Catholic bishops remembered in a Holy See communiqué on May 23 following their deaths over the past six months. All three died over the age of 90 after lives that spanned some of the most tumultuous periods for the Catholic Church in China. 

Zhu was born in Pushan, Henan, in 1921, at a time of extraordinary growth of Christianity in China. This was also the year that the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai. 

After his father died, Zhu’s mother enrolled him in a Catholic orphanage in Jingang at the age of six. Two years later both he and his mother were baptized. Zhu enrolled in a minor seminary. During the Chinese Civil War, he moved to the regional seminary of the regional seminary  philosophy and theology in the Archdiocese of Kaifeng in 1946. 

However, he would not be ordained to the priesthood until after the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949. In the years following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China many Catholics were arrested for refusing to comply with government campaigns to eliminate foreign influence and nationalize private schools.

Pope Pius XII highlighted this suffering in his encyclical Evangelii praecones in 1951.

“We have learned that many of the faithful and also nuns, missionaries, native priests and even bishops have been driven from their homes, despoiled of their possessions and languish in want as exiles or have been arrested, thrown into prison or into concentration camps, or sometimes cruelly done to death, because they were devoutly attached to their faith. Our heart is overwhelmed with grief when We think of the hardships, suffering and death of these our beloved children,” the pope wrote.

Zhu was ordained to the priesthood in 1957, the year before Mao Zedong launched the “Great Leap Forward,” a five-year collectivised farming plan that resulted in a famine that killed more than 20 million people between 1959 and 1962.

Seven years after his ordination, he was sentenced to three years of forced labor because of his faith. Upon his release in 1967, he conducted ministry in secret in his hometown.

Zhu was again sentenced to 10 years of forced labor as an “anti-revolutionary” in 1981 after he was arrested for taking Catholics on pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan in Shanghai, according to a Human Rights Watch report documenting hundreds of religious and political prisoners detained in China at the time. 

Upon his release in 1988, Zhu was allowed to resume parish ministry. Pope John Paul II appointed Zhu as coadjutor bishop of Nanyang in 1995, and he was ordained in secret on the feast of St. Joseph. In 2002 he became the ordinary underground bishop of Nanyang until he submitted his retirement to the pope in 2010.

Nanyang is Chinese city more than 10 million people. According to the Vatican statement, the Diocese of Nanyang has 20,000 Catholics and 20 priests. 

Zhu’s funeral was presided over by Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang, the first underground bishop to be publicly accepted by the Chinese government following the September 2018 China-Holy See agreement on the appointment of bishops.

The Vatican communique also announced the deaths of underground bishops emeriti Joseph Ma Zhongmu and Andrew Jin Danyuan.

Andrew Jin Danyuan, underground bishop emeritus of Changzhi, died in November at the age of 90. After his ordination to the priesthood in Beijing in 1956, Jin was arrested and imprisoned for 13 years. 

Bishop Joseph Ma Zhongmu, who remained a part of China’s underground Church until his death at the age of 101 on March 23, was the first and only bishop of Mongolian ethnicity.

Born in a village in Inner Mongolia in 1919, Zhongmu studied in a Chinese minor seminary from 1935 to 1947, when he was ordained a priest during the Chinese Civil War.

Fr. Ma was sentenced to 10 years of forced labor in 1958 after refusing to join the then recently established Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Upon his release, Ma was forced to work as a village laborer in a water management plant during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He was unable to resume his priestly ministry until 1979 as China began to open under Deng Xiaoping.

Pope John Paul II appointed Ma to be bishop of Yinchuan in 1983, entrusting to him the pastoral care of Mongolian Catholics. 

As bishop, Ma translated the catechism and other Church documents into Mongolian, and in his retirement dedicated himself to translating the New Testament and Roman Missal as well.

The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples sent Bishop Ma a pectoral cross in 2004 as a sign of recognition and communion. 

Ma’s funeral was offered on March 27 by Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu of Hohhot and two other priests. No others allowed in attendance due to the coronavirus restrictions. 

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