by Gianni Valente
Rome (Agenzia Fides) - On the morning of Tuesday, April 4, Chinese Bishop Joseph Shen Bin, head of the Diocese of Haimen (Jiansu province), was installed in the Diocese of Shanghai.
The ceremony - reports Chinese website Xinde.org - was presided over by Father Wu Jianlin, director of the Catholic Committee for educational affairs in Shanghai. During the event, the letter from the Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops ordering the transfer of Bishop Shen Bin as head of the diocese of Shanghai was read. Then, after the speeches by the Bishop of Beijing, Joseph Li Shan, and several priests from the Shanghai community, Bishop Shen Bin also spoke.
In his speech, Bishop Shen Bin said he will continue to carry forward "the fine tradition of patriotism and love of the Catholic Church in Shanghai", in adhering to the principle of independence and self-government. The Bishop also recalled the urgency to continue with the "sinicisation of Catholicism in China" and his intention to "promote the proclamation of the Gospel", according to what has been "the great tradition of Shanghai".
The ceremony was attended by about 200 people, including priests and nuns from the Shanghai Diocese.
Shanghai is also home to Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who was ordained auxiliary bishop in June 2012, when the diocese was still led by Jesuit Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian. Ma Daqin had been elected bishop with the consent of both the Holy See and the Beijing government. Then, from the very day of his episcopal ordination, he had been confined to the seminary of Shanghai, because at the end of the liturgy of consecration he had expressed his intention to abandon the positions he had held until then in the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics. The Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops had withdrawn his approval to carry out episcopal ministry and had also suspended him from public exercise of priesthood for two years. All this time, the Holy See has recognized and continues to recognize Ma Daqin as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai.
In the afternoon (Italian time) of Tuesday, April 4, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, in a communication to journalists reported that "the Holy See had been informed a few days ago of the decision of the Chinese authorities" to transfer the Bishop and "learned from the media of the installation this morning". "For the moment - added Bruni - I have nothing to say about the Holy See's assessment of the matter".
The Agreement signed between the Holy See and the Chinese government on September 22, 2018, renewed for two consecutive two-year terms in 2020 and 2022, and always defined as a "provisional agreement", is limited to the issue of the appointment of Chinese Bishops.
According to the initial declarations of intent, the Agreement was supposed to create "the conditions for broader bilateral cooperation". At the time, the path of gradualism was chosen, recognizing the fact that every path, even the most complicated, is taken one step at a time, progressively addressing the open issues that condition the life of the Catholic Church in China, confronting each of them to the bitter end, until a shared solution is found, without ever making rifts or taking unilateral initiatives, either on one side or the other.
When initiating processes, one always takes into account that the path ahead may involve moments of stalemate, difficulties, or the emergence of new problems. Predictions of this kind were made by senior representatives of the Holy See already at the time of the signing of the Agreement, which remains an important point of arrival and restart of a process that has been underway for decades.
Joseph Shen Bin was born in 1970 in Qi Dong City into a family with a long Catholic tradition. He studied philosophy at Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai and theology at Beijing National Seminary. Ordained a priest on October 1, 1996. Served as parish priest and then also Vicar General in Haimen until 2008. After the death of Bishop Yu Chengcai, Shen governed the diocese as diocesan administrator. Then, on April 21, 2010, he was ordained Bishop of Haimen with a papal mandate and the recognition of the political authorities.
Now Shen Bin is referred to as a bishop appreciated and valued by the Chinese government apparatus. In August 2022, the last Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives elected him President of the Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops. In March, Shen Bin was one of three bishops co-opted into the team of 11 Catholic representatives who took part in the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Bishop Shen Bin participated in two international peace meetings organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio in Münster and Osnabrück (September 2017) and in Bologna (October 2018). "Twenty years ago," Shen Bin recalled in an interview published in the online newspaper Vatican Insider in October 2017, "we could not pray publicly for the Pope. We could not mention communion with the Pope in any text, in any formula. Now in every mass we pray for Pope Francis. And we even re-sing hymns for the Pope, the ones that are no longer used outside China". In the same interview, the then Bishop of Haimen remarked how "we have understood for a long time that in China, in order to move things forward, it is convenient and sometimes necessary to distinguish between ecclesial matters, matters of faith, and economic and administrative matters, which in themselves do not touch the deposit of faith". And he added: "Jesus says that we must be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves". (Agenzia Fides, 4/4/2023)