An event of seismic importance in the history of the Chinese Catholic church occurred this Saturday at the St Ignatius Cathedral in Xujiahui. The newly ordained Bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin (马达钦主教), announced he was quitting all of his positions in the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) in his thank-you speech given at the close of the installation service.
“With this ordination, I will be devoting my heart and soul to the episcopal ministry and to evangelism. Hence, there are some positions that will be inconvenient for me to hold on to. From today’s ordination onwards, I will no longer be a member of the CPA,” Bishop Ma told the 1,000-strong congregation to sustained applause.
This is understood to be the first resignation by a bishop from CPA positions in such a public manner.
Earlier in the ordination service, the 96-year-old Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian laid his hands on Ma, assisted by Bishops Joseph Xu Honggen of Suzhou and Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen, both approved by the Vatican. (For more on Bishop Jin’s life, read Adam Minter’s 2007 piece “Keeping Faith” and “No Easy Answers”, an interview with Anthony E. Clark.)
Asian Catholic news website UCANews.com reports that Bishop Ma was taken away by “several unidentified persons” shortly after the service and taken to the Sheshan basilica, where he “has freedom of movement” but remains “restricted… from exercising his episcopal ministry.”
Chinese officials “looked very serious when walking out of the cathedral,” one source said, adding that three tables reserved for government officials at the banquet following the ordination were left empty.
Bishop Ma’s absence caused considerable grief during Sunday Mass yesterday, with Father Joseph Gu Zhangjun visibly upset as he presided over the Mass in his stead.
“Hundreds of Catholics who packed the cathedral yesterday were also very sad,” the source said.
Priests and nuns of the Shanghai diocese received a text message from Bishop Ma yesterday evening, saying he felt “mentally and physically exhausted” after his ordination.
“I need a break and have made a personal retreat. With the consent of Bishop Jin [Luxian], I am at the side of Our Lady of Sheshan,” the message read.
A Shanghai priest said Bishop Ma is now having a rough time. “It is painful, but is good for the conscience of the Church in China. His witness is an encouragement for our Catholics, so we can only pray for him.”
Across China, many Catholics called for prayers and fasting for Bishop Ma on the internet today, the feast of Chinese Martyrs.
Video of Bishop Ma’s thank-you speech. At 6’40” into the video, he announces his resignation to sustained applause:
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