Dalai Lama out, bishop in, after talks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2007, 12:00am

Cleric elevated following Sino-Vatican meeting

The state-sanctioned Catholic church yesterday installed a priest loyal to the Pope as Bishop of Guangzhou following recent high-level Vatican talks in Beijing.

The meeting is believed to have been postponed from early November after some Christian newspapers in Europe reported that Pope Benedict would meet the Dalai Lama this month. But shortly after the meeting in Beijing the Vatican announced in late November that the Pope did not have any plans to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

Father Joseph Gan Junqiu , 44, was reportedly approved for the post by the Vatican early this year but was only installed as bishop yesterday morning at Guangzhou's Sacred Heart Cathedral. He received the formal approval of the state-controlled China Catholic Bishops' College on November 21, more than 10 months after applying.

The installation comes after Francis Lu Shouwang, 41, was consecrated as the new bishop of Yichang in Hubei province last Friday.

An informed source told the South China Morning Post the Vatican delegation was invited to Beijing to meet their Chinese counterparts about two weeks ago. The source said the delegation included the Vatican's undersecretary of state Pietro Parolin, described by the source as the highest-ranking Vatican official to visit the mainland. Officials of higher rank had visited before as envoys rather than in an official capacity.

The solemn installation ceremony, widely seen as a sign of improving ties between Beijing and the Vatican, was attended by more than 1,200 Catholics from around the country, mainly from dioceses in Guangdong, and some central government and lower-level officials. Bishop Gan's diocese covers five Guangdong cities.

Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association vice-chairman Lu Guocun welcomed the new bishop, saying that in the ordination Mass Bishop Gan gave thanks to God for choosing him.

Bishop Gan graduated from a Catholic seminary in Henan in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1991. He was transferred to Guangzhou diocese in 2002, where he is highly regarded by laymen and clergy. He was elected the new bishop on October 25 last year with an 82 per cent approval rating among the clergy.

He fills the position left vacant since the death of Bishop James Lin Bingliang in 2001.

Mr Lu said priests from Guangzhou diocese chose the installation date and began preparing for it once the candidate received official endorsement.

The Vatican and Beijing have usually been at odds over the appointment of bishops but Mr Lu said that as far as he knew, '80 per cent of the bishops appointed by the Chinese Catholic church were ultimately approved by the Vatican'. He said the joint approval for Bishop Gan was also a good sign of the improved relationship.

He said that although Beijing and the Vatican had different political and cultural backgrounds, all mainland Catholics had always been faithful to the Holy See and the Pope.

Mr Lu said the Chinese Catholic church had gained much valuable experience over the past 50 years, during which it had survived but developed tortuously.

Sacred Heart Cathedral reopened in February following a multimillion-yuan facelift.