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While the Chinese government has been forcibly removing crosses from churches in the province of in Zhejiang, and persecuting local Christian leaders there, news outlets this week reported that a diocese in central China has ordained China’s first Catholic bishop since 2012.
The Rev. Joseph Zhang Yinlin was named coadjutor bishop of Anyang in Henan province. Both AsiaNews and Ucanews report that the Vatican approved Tuesday’s ordination, which may signal "a return to the formula under which Chinese authorities, who claim the sole right to appoint bishops, name candidates that are then tacitly accepted by the Vatican." An article in the New York Times reports that Zhang’s consecration was announced by the official church in China.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government remains strained, but the Associated Press notes that the ordination marks the first appointment of a new Chinese bishop under Pope Francis, who has made a point of conveying messages of friendship to China and the nation’s leaders.
According to the Henan Catholic church’s official website, 75 priests, 120 nuns, and more than 1,500 faithful attended Zhang’s ordination at Anyang’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. Three other bishops who participated in the ceremony were also government-appointed and Vatican-approved, according to AsiaNews and Ucanews. Officials from the official Catholic Patriotic Association and the central government reportedly also attended.
The web site quoted Zhang, who is 43, as saying he would respect China’s constitution and work to "maintain national unification and social stability and unity in order to contribute to the building of a moderately prosperous society" —echoing standard Communist Party slogans.
Security was tight at the ordination, with hundreds of police and security agents on site, carefully scrutinizing attendees.
Bernardo Cervellera, AsiaNews’ editor, wrote that Tuesday’s "calm" ordination was more a factor of the Anyang diocese’s good government relations than of any significant shift in relations between the Vatican and Beijing.
"It would be too much to attribute the ceremony’s smoothness to some signals between China and the Vatican or to a lessening of tensions or better relations," Cervellera wrote.