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‘Underground' Church Administrator dies in China.

UCAnews - Fri, Feb 10th 2012

Father Lawrence Zhang Wenchang, apostolic administrator of the three ecclesiastical territories in south western Yunnan province – Kunming, Dali and Zhaotong – has died aged 92.

Funeral for Father Lawrence Zhang Wenchang, 92, to be held next week

                                                                                                                                          Father Lawrence Zhang Wenchang

He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in October and died in his home town in Shilin Yi autonomous county on Sunday. The Sani-ethnic priest’s body will be on view for seven days so people can pay their last respects according to tribal custom of Sani, a subgroup of Yi-ethnic.

The “underground” administrator, who had no affiliation with the government-sanctioned “open” Church, had lived in Kunming city under police surveillance for years. Kunming diocese has had no legitimate bishop for 60 years since French Archbishop Alexandre Derouineau was expelled in 1952. Fathers Kong Lingzhong and Joseph Ma Yinglin were ordained bishops of Kunming without a papal mandate in 1962 and 2006 respectively.

The news of his death has sparked heated words on the popular Chinese website Tianzhujiao Zaixian (Catholic Church online). Some netizens praised Fr Zhang’s fidelity to Rome. 

“We don’t want anybody from the [open community’s] Catholic Patriotic Association offering condolences or having a hand in Fr Zhang’s funeral service. Kunming diocese needs a new bishop who is loyal to the pope. Ma Yinglin, please leave Yunnan,” another said.

Others said it was unfair to criticize the Patriotic Association, which paid the costs of Fr Zhang’s medication and hospitalization, while another poster said the costs were donated by Catholics from different places.

Born in 1920, he entered the diocesan minor seminary at the age of 12. He graduated from Kunming major seminary and received priestly ordination in 1946. After serving at the cathedral for a few years, he was forced to be a chicken and rabbit breeder in 1953 during a period of political turmoil.

He was arrested in 1958 and sent to prison for counter-revolutionary crimes. He received reform-through-labor in a farm from 1962-82, after which he began to visit Catholics and work part-time. In 1987 he returned to serving the Church after rehabilitation.

The Holy See appointed him to administer Kunming diocese, Dali diocese and Zhaotong apostolic prefecture in 2000.

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