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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 4:07 AM

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Shanghai bishop funeral held amid successor crisis

Funeral services were held Thursday for Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, while the whereabouts of his anointed successor remained unclear amid a struggle for control between the Vatican and the ruling Communist Party.

Associated Press

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BEIJING —

Funeral services were held Thursday for Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, while the whereabouts of his anointed successor remained unclear amid a struggle for control between the Vatican and the ruling Communist Party.

Jin died Saturday at age 96, leaving deep uncertainty about the future leadership of one of China's largest and wealthiest dioceses.

His successor, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, was placed under house arrest last year immediately after he renounced his role in the Communist Party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. Ma had been confined to Shanghai's main seminary at Sheshan, but reportedly was moved recently to an undisclosed location.

The officially atheist Communist Party insists on tightly controlling all organized religions. It requires that Catholics worship in churches that belong to the Patriotic Association and demands the right to appoint bishops in defiance of the Vatican. Despite that, Ma had been approved by both the Vatican and Beijing, making his public renunciation of the Patriotic Association at his July 7 ordination Mass a grave affront to the party.

Security at the Longhua Funeral Home was tight for Jin's funeral, with dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police officers on hand. Six officers kept a close eye on those lining up for flowers to place on Jin's bier, turning away journalists and others on an unofficial blacklist. Despite that, more than 1,000 people filled a large hall dominated by a big portrait of Jin, about the same number who attended a funeral mass at the city's St. Ignatius Cathedral earlier in the week.

Mourners extolled Jin's life, which took him from religious studies in Europe to Mao Zedong's labor camps, but also complained bitterly of party interference in religious affairs. One woman noted that Jin's official biography and death notice made no mention of his nearly three decades of confinement under Communist China's founder, Mao Zedong, who ordered Chinese Catholics to cut their ties with the Vatican and jailed hundreds of priests and nuns as counter-revolutionaries.

"It's unfair to him that there was no mention at the funeral of the difficult times in his life. And where is our bishop? I feel very saddened and pained for Ma Daqin," said the woman, who declined to give her name because of fear of harassment by the authorities.

After Ma renounced the Patriotic Association, it stripped him of his title as "coadjutor," or acting, bishop but the Vatican refused to recognize the move and has continued to view Ma as Shanghai's auxiliary bishop.

One priest, who asked not to be identified by name, said he'd been hopeful that Ma would be released after Jin's death, but now feared for the future of the Shanghai diocese, formerly one of China's most independent.

"We're all very worried for Bishop Ma. We expected he'd be released soon but now it seems impossible," the priest said.

Born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in June 1916, Jin was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1938 and spent several years studying in France, Germany, and other European nations. Returning to his native Shanghai in 1951, he was imprisoned or otherwise confined for nearly two decades and later put to work as a translator based on his knowledge of several European languages. Following Mao's death in 1976, he was formally released and named Shanghai bishop in 1988 by the Patriotic Association. Although the Vatican recognized another priest as Shanghai bishop, Jin worked tirelessly to recover church property and rebuild its congregations, publishing houses, and overseas ties.

Jin had been criticized by some for cooperating with Mao's successors in reviving the church in Shanghai, but later reconciled with the Vatican and worked to heal divisions between Catholics who worship in the state church and those who do so in underground congregations.

"He was so important to the Shanghai diocese," said Mei Jingfen, 63, who regularly attended Jin's masses at St. Ignatius. "It was peaceful and harmonious under his leadership and we respected him so much," she said.

China has an estimated 8 million to 12 million Catholics. Despite official requirements, around half worship in congregations outside the control of the Patriotic Association.

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