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MINDONG, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - A bishop of the Chinese underground Church is disappearing from public office in a move that is shocking — and saddening — faithful around the world.
Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin of the Mindong diocese announced his decision to resign from public life and retire to a life of prayer in a speech delivered at his last public Mass on the evening of Oct. 4.
Guo, who has suffered homelessness and imprisonment many times at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), submitted his letter of resignation to the Vatican last month.
"Tonight will be the last public Mass that I preside: From tomorrow I will only do private Masses," he informed his parishioners. "[T]he faithful can receive the sacraments and attend Mass at the nearby church."
Guo described the reign of Chinese president Xi Jinping and Pope Francis as "a new era" and "a new page for the Church," warranting other leaders.
"In such an extraordinary historical moment, we need people with great talent, wisdom, virtue and knowledge to be able to keep up with this era or even precede the steps of the era by guiding it," he argued.
The speech was laden with self-deprecatory and resigned remarks:
I am a person who has no talent; my head is now a void unable to change with a changing society; [I am] a shepherd born in a poor village who has no talent, no virtue, no wisdom, no skills, no knowledge; in the face of this age that changes so rapidly, I feel almost incapable.
The prelate, described as "a great confessor of the faith," thanked God "for enlightening me by making me understand that I am no longer able to keep up with this era," he resolved. "I do not want to become an obstacle to progress."
AsiaNews conjectured, based on the substance of Guo's letter, "that the bishop's retreat to a life of prayer is an attempt to save the unity of the diocesan church under Bp. Zhan Silu."
Zhan is one of the bishops who had been excommunicated as a CCP appointment in 2000, but whom Pope Francis reconciled in 2018 when the Vatican-China agreement was signed. The pope requested that Bp. Guo be reduced to an assistant bishop at the time. Zhan is the most interviewed personality in the government media, according to Asia News.
Guo's departure is increasingly seen as a casualty of the Sino-Vatican agreement, and many priests are reacting in pain to the decision: "The bishop [Guo] exhorts all the faithful to remain steadfast in the faith. He is a true shepherd and priest; out of fidelity to Christ, he has often been imprisoned. Even the government authorities respect him."
Bishop Guo is not the only prelate to don a spirit of resignation.
The almost 90-year old bishop told Bree A. Dail, reporting for the National Catholic Register, that he is unlikely to see Rome again. "I do not believe I will return again," he said. "My legs do not work so well now for these long trips."
When asked what could be done to stop the persecution of faithful Catholics in China or to support his pleas for a faithful appointment for the See of Hong Kong, Zen replied: "Nothing. I've done more than I can, and there is nothing more to do other than prayer."
"If tomorrow, the Vatican chooses [Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man], blessed by Beijing — if they appoint this bad bishop for Hong Kong, my job is finished. I will choose to disappear," he continued.
"My last act of protest will be to do just that, to now disappear with everyone knowing why," Zen added. "I put this in my last will and testament — that my bones shall not be placed in the cathedral, I do not want to be buried with such men [CCP-appointed clergy]. I will be buried in a simple cemetery with what remains of the faithful people of God."
In a poignant closure to his speech, Guo offered a "final counsel" to his parishioners: "In any circumstance or change, you must never forget God; do not ignore the Lord's commandments; do not harm the integrity of the Faith; do not slow down the salvation of the soul, which is the most important thing."
As the Chinese bishop did at the beginning of his speech, he ended begging forgiveness "for my weakness and helplessness, especially for the offenses I made against you during my office!"
"May the merciful God always be with you, until the last day of your life!" he blessed them.
"My faithful, you must remember that your faith is in God and not in man," he exhorted. "Man is subject to change, but God is not."