HANDAN, CHINA – Handan diocese is preparing to go ahead with the episcopal ordination of Fr Joseph Sun Jigen despite objection from the government.
The event is scheduled for June 29, the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul, at Caozhuang Church in Hebei province. Bishop Stephen Yang Xiangtai is to be the main consecrator. He will ordain Fr Sun as coadjutor bishop. The appointment of Fr Sun has been approved by Pope Benedict XVI.
The diocese has prepared for the ordination and also informed all Catholics to begin a novena to pray for it.
According to local sources, government officials rejected the date of the ordination saying it comes close to the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Communist Party of China on July 1. They also maintain that it should be the government to decide on the ordination date.
The government sees the symbolic feast day as “sensitive”, as it means “we are loyal to Rome”, a source said.
The local Church thinks ordaining a bishop is an internal matter and only needs to inform the government but not apply for approval, the source added.
Fr Sun was making a spiritual retreat and could not be reached. Church people have also transferred Bishop Yang, 89, to an undisclosed location so that he would not be prevented from presiding at the ordination.
“The current situation is a test for Fr Sun. If he succumbs to the government, it would split up the diocese as some priests accepted him only because it was the pope’s appointment,” a source said.
Fr Sun was born in 1967. He entered the minor seminary in 1986 and the major seminary two years later. He was ordained a priest in 1995. He was appointed diocesan chancellor in 1997 and was vicar general from 2001-2005.
He was elected coadjutor bishop in 2010. He has been a member of Handan city’s People’s Political Consultative Conference since 1998.
A Church observer who requested anonymity said it is a “provident moment” and a good sign that the Church leaders deal with the episcopal ordination on their own as it is a strictly Church matter.