The Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, China, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, has been under house arrest in Sheshan Seminary in China since July 2012. For his steadfast faith in the face of the governmental power which has impeded him from exercising his religious ministry, we are proud to include Bishop Ma among our “Top Ten” people of 2103 for a second year in a row.
“As prisons go, it’s a relatively pleasant one,” the BBC has reported. “The Sheshan Seminary can be found on a quiet leafy lane that could just as well be in Tuscany as its true location, the outskirts of Shanghai. There is no barbed wire in sight and no guards, just a solitary, rather friendly watchman at the front gate.”
Bishop Ma does enjoy certain limited freedoms. He can get permission to come and go from the seminary, but not to leave the wider Shanghai area. Also, he’s been allowed to keep his internet blog updated, although most of the postings are simple, biblical quotes that shed little light on his well-being.
But while he may not be shackled to his bed, after almost 18 months, Bishop Ma is being sent to political lessons — Communist indoctrination, in other words — three times a week.
A video from July 7, 2012, shows Ma telling his congregation he was resigning from China’s Patriotic Catholic Association, a state-approved organization Catholic clergy in mainland China are required to join. Ma had been ordained as a bishop by the association. He had also won approval from Catholic leaders in the Vatican.
“After you take up the ministry and become auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, there’s a lot going on,” Bishop Ma told the congregation, explaining his decision. “Heart and mind should be completely devoted to ministering and spreading the Good Word. Some posts are not convenient to continue to hold. So, from this day, this time of holy celebration, it is no longer convenient for me to continue to be a member of the Patriotic Association.”
To an outside observer, Bishop Ma’s declaration may not have looked very defiant. He wanted to focus all his energies on being a bishop, he said, so it would no longer be “convenient” to continue with the dual role of being a bureaucrat. But in the eyes of the Chinese authorities it was an extraordinary statement of independence and they moved swiftly against the priest. He was taken straight to Sheshan and has not been seen in public since.
A year and a half later, in December, he offered thoughtful reflections on the meaning of his incarceration.
Posting on his microblog (in China, a “microblog” called “Sina Weibo” is one of the most popular websites, attracting 100 million web postings a day), Bishop Ma invited prayers for the deceased South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and cited three sentences as symbolic of all struggles for freedom. The quotations seemed to describe Bishop Ma’s present situation. The messages were posted on December 6.
The first saying Bishop Ma cited was: “Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.”
The second phrase cited reads: “Faith sometimes undergoes painful tests, but I will not give in to pessimism.”
The third one is: “Both the oppressors and the oppressed need liberation. The ones who take away others’ freedom are prisoners of hatred. They are locked behind bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”
On December 2, Bishop Ma turned 45. His faithful wrote in his microblog birthday wishes and addressed him as “Most respectable bishop.” On November 24, some Catholics wished Bishop Ma happiness on the Feast of Christ the King, and proclaimed “Christ conquers, He reigns and He commands” on his microblog. A Catholic in Shanghai told AsiaNews: “We are praying earnestly for the freedom of Bishop Ma everyday. We hope he will keep himself in good spirit despite all the difficulties. We pray that he will be freed soon and can exercise his episcopal authority. Our Shanghai diocese needs his leadership.”
The revocation of the title of Bishop of Shanghai for Bishop Ma by the “so-called Bishops’ Conference of China” is an “abuse of power,” Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, a native of Hong Kong who is Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has said.
According to the Patriotic Association, Bishop Ma violated their rules the day of his episcopal ordination on July 7, 2012, refusing the laying on of hands by excommunicated bishops and refusing to share Holy Communion with them.
“Bishop Ma,” Msgr. Savio Hon said, “did this in obedience to the Pope, but from the Patriotic Association’s point of view that is a crime. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples fully supports Bishop Ma. Indeed we have great respect for this young bishop who has dared to make a great gesture of truth, of love for the Holy Father. I know him personally, since he was a seminarian, and I always pray for him, so that he may be sustained by the grace of the Lord in this difficult time.
“I call on all communities around the world to pray for Ma Daqin: we turn to the Lord so that Bishop Ma — and the many other bishops and priests in prison such as Msgr. James Su Zhimin and Cosma Shi Enxiang — can see days of freedom.”—ITV Staff