The ordination of Father Joseph Zhang Yinlin, 44, as coadjutor bishop of Anyang diocese in Henan province, mainland China, on August 4 was conducted in a way that respects church law and would appear to signal that the Chinese authorities wish to reach an accord with the Holy See.
The ordination was presided over by the 90-year-old Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin of Anyang diocese and took place at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, Anyang city, in a ceremony attended by 1,400 people, including 75 priests and 120 nuns, UCA News—the main Catholic news agency in Asia, reported. Some Chinese priests travelled from the United States, Italy and France for the event, AFP reported.
Three bishops assisted Bishop Zhang Huaixin as co-consecrators: Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen, Joseph Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun and Wang Renlei of Xuzhou, according to UCA News. All four enjoy the approval of the Holy See and are recognized by the Beijing Government.
It is particularly significant that bishops not recognized by the Holy See did not attend the ceremony. This appears to be the clearest indicator to date of Beijing’s desire for harmonious relations with Rome, and its wish to reach a mutually acceptable accord with Rome on the nomination of bishops.
The new bishop was born in Henan province in 1971 and studied at the National Seminary in Beijing from 1992 to 1996 when he was ordained priest. Prior to his ordination he served as vicar general of the Anyang diocese, assisting Bishop Thomas Zhang Huaixin. He was elected as candidate to be bishop on April 29 and had papal approval.
As of today, the new bishop is coadjutor to the diocese’s elderly bishop in the eyes of both Rome and Beijing, but is expected to succeed him in the near future as pastor to its 40,000 faithful, 30 priests and 120 nuns.
Today’s ceremony took place under strict security. One church source told UCA News that the authorities limited participants to 25 people from each of the diocese's 17 parishes. Another source present at the ordination reported that those who did not have identity cards could not get to the venue. “The security check was strict as in the airport. We were checked twice,” and despite the rain the authorities had “hundreds of police and firemen to maintain order,” the source added.
A priest who concelebrated at the ordination Mass, but asked for anonymity, told UCA News that nearly 500 people were turned away from the ceremony by authorities and had to follow it on TV sets in parish classrooms.
The new bishop comes from “a traditional Catholic family,” a priest who was present at the ordination told AFP. “I'm glad he is becoming our bishop. He has a very deep faith and I know he will be able to accomplish his ministry well,” he added.
“This is a new beginning for Anyang Diocese,” a local priest told UCA News. He described the ordination as a good start for the church in Henan and also for the church in China.
Today’s ceremony was the first episcopal ordination in mainland China since the July 2012 ordination of Bishop Ma Daqin in Shanghai. It was also the first since Francis became pope and since China and the Holy See resumed their dialogue at the end of June 2014. It may be considered as a first fruit of that dialogue.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that another candidate elected to be bishop in the same province of Henan, Father Cosmos Ji Chengyi of Zhumadian, was also present at today’s ceremony. He too has papal approval, but the date for his ordination has yet to be announced. If it is conducted in the same proper ecclesial manner as today’s one then that would be further confirmation that Sino-Vatican relations are developing in a positive way.