00 10/17/2009 5:58 PM

Over 20,000 Catholics, 'official' and underground,
attend funeral services for the bishop of Wenzhou

WENZHOU, China, Oct. 14 (UCAN) -- More than 20,000 Catholics from both the government-approved and "underground" Church communities bade farewell to Bishop James Lin Xili of Wenzhou on Oct. 10.

Bishop Lin, who had been clandestinely ordained as the first bishop of Wenzhou, died on Oct. 4. at Qiliang church in Yueqing after a long illness. He was 91.

The late prelate was held in high regard by both communities for his tireless work in the diocese.

Following his death, Wenzhou diocese's open and underground Church communities celebrated separate requiem Masses from Oct. 5-10 at Qiliang church.

On Oct. 10, both open and underground Catholics joined together in the five-kilometer-long funeral procession and the internment of his ashes at the Catholic cemetery on Panyang Hill.

The diocese estimated more than 20,000 Catholics attended the Oct. 10 funeral at the small Qiliang church, managed by the open Church community. Government officials, however, put the figure at between 5,000 and 8,000.

About 1,000 uniform and plainclothes police were stationed outside the church while the liturgy was in process, but otherwise did not intervene.

Diocesan sources told UCA news that the Wenzhou underground Catholics were able to conduct their funeral Mass on Oct. 9 with "the greatest freedom and largest number of attendees ever."

This was in sharp contrast to the funerals of other underground bishops in recent years that were held under strict government surveillance, they said.

The local government had designated Bishop Lin's funeral to be held at the Qiligang Church, which is managed by the open Church community and accommodates only 200 people. Officials helped to level and clean up a neighboring plot of land to allow the crowd to view the funeral proceedings via a TV screen.

Except for a few sick, elderly priests, most of the 19 open priests and 18 underground clergy of Wenzhou diocese attended the funeral Masses.

The sources also said local government officials forbade the use of the term zhujiao (bishop) on banners and wreaths, but a compromise was reached with the use of "Lin mu" (shepherd Lin). However, officials allowed the verbal use of "Lin zhujiao" during funeral Masses and other memorial services.

Authorities did not allow Bishop Lin's body to be clothed in bishop's garb, but his family members placed the zucchetto or bishop's skullcap on his head just before the cremation, sources said.

For the procession, a two-meter-high portrait of the late prelate in a claret cassock and zucchetto was placed on a vehicle which was decorated with flowers, while several laypersons carried his ashes. Government officials had disallowed the use of a photo of Bishop Lin wearing his miter and holding his crosier.

Many curious non-Catholic onlookers were attracted by the procession in which hundreds of wreaths, colorful flags and banners were carried to the sound of drums and pipes. The procession from the church to the cemetery lasted two and a half hours.

Bishop Lin was the fourth bishop in mainland China to die in 2009. The issue of his succession has aroused concern among local Catholics and government officials, say diocesan sources.

Wenzhou diocese has about 120,000 Catholics, including those who live and work in other parts of China.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 2/10/2010 12:26 AM]