Underground Church in China Loses Spokesperson

Bishop Who Worked for Reconciliation Dies

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HUALIEN, Taiwan, FEB. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Andrew Tsien Chih-chun, promoter of dialogue between the underground and official Churches in China, died Tuesday.



AsiaNews reported today that the retired bishop of Hualien died of a heart attack in his former diocese. He was 83 years and was retired since 2001.

He was born in one of the eastern coastal provinces of mainland China and was baptized as a child along with his entire family. He entered the seminary in 1947, but due to the advent of the Communist regime in his country, he went to Italy to study theology.

Upon returning to Taiwan, he served as a parish priest and dean of the faculty of philosophy at the Furen Catholic University, as well as director of the institute for philosophical research. In 1992 he was appointed bishop of Hualien.

Bishop Tsien worked for reconciliation of the Church in China, where the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.

This explains the difference affirmed between the "national" or "official" Church, and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly. The latter constitute the non-official, or underground, Church.

As Bishop Tsien recalled in his retirement farewell speech to the diocese, he devoted much effort to "stay in touch with the underground Church, sharing their suffering and becoming their spokesperson," trying "to promote the communion of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church."
 
He clarified that helping the Church "does not mean support for the Patriotic Association." It is necessary, the prelate said, "to encourage the bishops and priests of the official Church to be faithful, rejecting the atheist and independent principles of the association."

The bishop affirmed: "Together with the underground Church it is necessary to gain religious freedom and human dignity. This freedom and dignity are God's gift -- no political authority can take them away -- on the contrary, they should respect and guard it."