Thousands bid farewell to underground Shanghai bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang

Death of persecuted clergyman leaves fate of split Catholics on mainland even more uncertain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 4:58am


Thousands of mourners packed a Shanghai square yesterday to bid farewell to underground Catholic bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, whose faith, they said, led him to endure decades of suffering at the hands of the Communist Party.

Fan, who was imprisoned for much of the past two decades and spent his final years under house arrest, died last Sunday at the age of 97 after several days of high fever, according to the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, a Catholic organisation.

"I came here to bid farewell to our bishop," said a woman in her 60s who gave her name only as Clare and who was among a throng of mourners gathered outside the funeral home where Fan's body was laid out.

"He had kept loyal to the Lord throughout his life and endured great suffering. I have great respect for him," she said of Fan, appointed bishop of Shanghai in 2000 by pope John Paul II.

In the square outside the funeral home, a large screen displayed photos of Fan while mourners sang, prayed and listened to a man narrating the bishop's life story.

As the service started, it relayed scenes from inside the funeral home: Fan's body was laid out in the centre, flanked by mourners and clergy in red-and-white robes. A large photo of Fan was surrounded by flowers.

The authorities had turned down a request from worshippers to hold Fan's funeral service at Shanghai's main Catholic cathedral, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said.

The underground church exists in parallel with the state-controlled Catholic Church, which rejects the Vatican's authority.

Fan was ordained a priest in 1951 and spent more than two decades in jail and labour camps. His appointment as bishop of Shanghai in 2000 was rejected by the state-run church.

"Bishop Fan was forbidden to carry out his pastoral duty, as the government put him under house arrest almost immediately - a sentence that he served until the day he died," foundation president Joseph Kung said.

Beijing broke ties with the Vatican in 1951, and although relations have improved in recent years as the country's Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain priests.