Bishop Liang Jiansen flanked by others at his ordination.
A new Catholic bishop approved by both the Vatican as well as the state-approved church has been consecrated in the city of Jiangmen, Guangdong Province.
46 year old Bishop Paul Liang Jiansen (梁建森) was ordained in a high profile ceremony at Jiangmen’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that was attended by approximately1,400 parishioners as well as priests and lay people from Hong Kong and Macau.
The diocese of Jiangmen occupies a special place in Chinese Catholicism as two Jesuit priests Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci are said to have spent some time here. Today, the diocese claims about 20,000 faithful, spread over 24 counties and six cities, served by one bishop, seven priests and 26 nuns.
Just two weeks ago, Coadjutor Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting was ordained in Yan’an, also with the approval of the Vatican.
The new ordinations may thaw the icy relations between China and the Vatican, which took a turn for the worse last year when Guo Jincai was appointed bishop of Chengde without Rome’s approval, and Ma Yinglin, the bishop of Kunming who is not recognised by the Vatican, was named as head of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church of China.
Meanwhile, China Daily offers a staggering statistic in a report that quotes Bishop John Fang Xingyao, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, as saying that 44 out of 97 Catholic dioceses in mainland China are operating without a bishop. Of these 11 have already elected their bishops but are awaiting approval from the Bishops’ Conference.
Explaining the dearth of bishops, Bishop Fang told the China Daily, “In some dioceses, it would be premature to carry out consecrations, while in others there is a shortage of candidates or the candidates are still not qualified.”
Bishopric candidates in China are required to be over 35 years of age, have at least five years of experience as a priest, be proficient in religious matters and respected among the laity, and most importantly, to “love the country and the Church”.