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3rd bishop ordained in China in less than a week, confirms Holy See

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I.Media - published on 02/02/24

Bishop Pietro Wu Yishun's ordination seems to reflect improving relations between Beijing and the Vatican in the context of their Provisional Agreement.
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Bishop Pietro Wu Yishun was ordained bishop of the Apostolic Prefecture of Shaowu, in southern China, on January 31, 2024. The Vatican press office announced the ordination a few hours later. Pope Francis had appointed the 59-year-old prelate to the post on December 16, 2023, “within the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China,” it added.

This is the ninth episcopal consecration under this agreement, and the third in less than a week. As such, it seems to indicate greater fluidity of relations between Rome and Beijing.

Bishop Wu Yishun, baptized into the Catholic faith under the first name Pietro, was born on December 7, 1964. He received priestly ordination on August 15, 1992, for the Diocese of Xiamen, after studying at Sheshan seminary in Shanghai. Fr. Pietro was then sent to Minbei, becoming parish priest of Nanping and responsible for the apostolic prefectures of Shaowu and Jian’ou. He has now thus formally become bishop of an ecclesiastical district for which he was already responsible as a simple priest

A well-attended ceremony

On his X profile, Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Culture and Education who knows China well, reported that Bishop Li Shan of the Beijing diocese presided over the episcopal consecration mass. Nearly 80 priests from dioceses across the country took part, along with more than 360 nuns and lay representatives.

Unlike the case of the bishop of Weifang, ordained on January 29, this is not the creation of a new diocese in its own right. The Holy See has not provided statistics on the contours of this ecclesiastical district, but it is likely that the local clergy is not yet sufficiently numerous and united to ensure the foundation of a diocese. 

The reunification of the so-called “official” Church linked to the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics and the so-called “underground” Church is one of the most delicate issues at stake in the 2018 Agreement between Rome and Beijing on episcopal appointments. Some fear that this text, the content of which has never been made public, could lead to the validation of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance of all Catholic Church activities.

After a long period of inertia, accentuated by China’s policy of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, recent months have seen an acceleration in communications between Rome and Beijing. Fr. Spadaro celebrated Christmas mass in the Chinese capital, taking advantage of the positive perception of Jesuits in China.

Matteo Ricci as a reference point

The figure of Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), whose beatification process is currently underway, is also receiving favorable attention from the Chinese government, as this Jesuit missionary managed to integrate himself into Chinese culture and even into the imperial court, an honor rarely bestowed on a foreigner.

Matteo Ricci Portrait
Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest from the Papal States, traveled from Portugal to China in 1582 and became a key figure in the relationship between Europe and China

Furthermore, the creation as cardinal of another Jesuit, the bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, on September 30, was an explicit endorsement by Pope Francis of his strategy of reaching out to Beijing. Bishop Li Shan of the Chinese capital visited the former British colony last November, seven months after receiving his Hong Kong counterpart. The two dioceses have agreed to develop cooperation to improve the pastoral care of Catholics in China.

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