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Chinese bishops leaving Synod on Synodality early

Bishop Yao Shun of Jining and Bishop Yang Yongqiang of Zhouchun (right) of the People’s Republic of China at the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican in October 2023. / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 16, 2023 / 09:10 am (CNA).

Midway through the Vatican’s Synod on Synodality, two bishops from mainland China are suddenly departing the assembly early without explanation.

Bishop Antonio Yao Shun of Jining and Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun will return to China this week without completing the synod process, Vatican spokesman Paolo Ruffini told CNA on Oct. 16.

The Chinese bishops only participated in the first 12 days of the Synod assembly, following a nearly identical pattern to the two Chinese bishops who took part in the 2018 Synod on Youth.

When asked at a synod press conference why the Chinese bishops are leaving early, Ruffini said that their departure is due to “pastoral needs” in their diocese that require their presence.

During their time in Italy, the Chinese bishops also traveled to Naples with the bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Stephen Chow, according to Asia News. They offered Mass on Oct. 8 in the Chiesa della Sacra Famiglia dei Cinesi (Church of the Holy Family of the Chinese).

The church was built in 1732 as part of an institute founded by Pope Clement XII to train Chinese seminarians and teach missionaries the Chinese language to help with the evangelization of China. The Chinese bishops concelebrated the Mass and deposited a relic of St. Paul Wu Wanshu, a 16-year-old Chinese martyr killed in 1900 during the Boxer rebellion. 

Yang also participated in the synod pilgrimage to the catacombs in Rome last week, which he described to Vatican News as “a profound experience to see firsthand where the Church, where my faith began.”

In addition to the synod, Yang also participated in the 2023 National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body that is part of the Chinese Communist Party’s united front system, where it was decided that the Catholic Church should integrate its thought with the party and unite more closely to Xi Jinping, according to the official website of the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Yang, who was ordained with Vatican approval in 2010, is the vice president of the Chinese-government-sanctioned Catholic bishops’ conference and was elected as a leader of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in December 2016.

Yao was the first bishop consecrated in China under the terms of the Sino-Vatican agreement, on Aug. 26, 2019. He is the bishop of Jining in China’s Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia. He served as the secretary and later vice director of the liturgical commission overseen by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops since 1998.

The two bishops, who were originally considered voting members of the 16th Ordinary Synod of Bishops, will no longer be present in the Paul VI Hall for the final vote on the synthesis document at the end of this month’s assembly. 

In the 2018 Synod of Bishops, two other Chinese bishops, Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai and Bishop Yang Xiaoting of Yan’an, stayed for just under two weeks in Vatican City’s Santa Marta guesthouse before leaving the Synod of Bishops early on Oct. 15. The Chinese bishops told the press that they spoke with the pope and invited him to China before they left the synod in 2018.

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