A new bishop has been consecrated in Inner Mongolia, China, with approval from both Pope Francis and the Chinese state, for the first time.
Antonio Yao Shun becomes the first bishop to be consecrated in the country after a deal on bishop appointments was made with the Vatican in September 2018.
“I can confirm that H.E. Mgr. Antonio Yao Shun, who has been consecrated Bishop of Jining/Wulanchabu, Inner Mongolia (China), received the Papal Mandate, as was also stated by the Ordaining Bishop during the ceremony yesterday, 26 August 2019,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office.
“The Episcopal Ordination of H.E. Mgr. Antonio Yao is the first to take place in the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China signed in Beijing on 22nd September 2018,” he added.
Bishop Antonio Yao Shun, 54, will head the Diocese of Jining in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia. The diocese has been without a bishop since the June 2017 death of Bishop John Liu Shigong.
Beijing and Vatican officials signed a provisional agreement regarding bishop appointments on 22 September 2018. It was intended that the Vatican-China deal would unify the underground Church and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
While the terms of the agreement have been kept confidential, it reportedly permits the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to choose nominees for bishop.
The deal has been widely criticised. Hong Kong’s Joseph Zen, a senior Cardinal, spoke candidly in a social media post when details of the deal emerged in January 2018.
“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China?” he said. “Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all they are doing in recent years and months.”
According to Asia News reports, Bishop Yao was consecrated in the Jining Cathedral on the morning of August 26, with more than 120 priests concelebrating, a consecrator-bishop, and three co-consecrators.
Contrary to usual Vatican practice, Yao’s nomination to the episcopacy was not published in the daily bulletin of the Holy See press office. It is unclear whether Pope Francis appointed Yao before or after the Vatican-China deal was signed.
Bishop Yao has chosen the episcopal motto “Misericordes sicut pater,” which means “Be merciful like the Father.” This was the slogan chosen by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy in 2015.
Since 1957, the Church in China had been split between the “underground” Church, in full communion with Rome, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) for which the Chinese government appointed bishops.
Bishop Shun’s ordination may be a notable moment in the reconciliation between China and the Vatican.
Chinese state bishops were previously excommunicated from the Catholic Church for ordaining new bishops outside of the papal mandate.
In his statement, Bruni said: “At present, all the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the Pope.”
Picture: The Chinese national flag flies in front of a Catholic church in the village of Huangtugang, Hebei province, China, September 30 2018. (CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters)