This year marked an interesting chapter in the history of the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. We saw the election of the first Jesuit pope in Pope Francis. We also bid farewell to a remarkable Chinese Jesuit in the person of Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, S.J. Bishop Jin was a very complex man. He himself admitted in a 2010 interview to being both “a serpent and a dove”. I am currently reading his memoirs, which he started working on his 90s. He lived to the ripe old age of 96, having seen huge changes in his country.
He was born in 1916, a few years after the Republic of China was established by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. The Republic of China endured many tumultous times. He grew up during a time where warlords dominated much of the country. Shanghai has a Catholic community of very long history. Some of the earliest Catholics in Shanghai were friendly with the great Jesuit missionary and Sinologist Mateo Ricci. If you visit the Xujiahui neighbourhood of Shanghai, you will not only find the cathedral and the chancery, but you will find the Jesuit library and many other relics of the Catholic community there. One of the most famous Catholic figures was the late Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-mei, S.J. Cardinal Kung, like so many other Chinese bishops and priests, spent many years imprisoned. Bishop Jin also was imprisoned. Cardinal Kung eventually was able to leave China to seek medical treatment. While in the West, Blessed John Paul II revealed that he had chosen him to be a cardinal. Needless to say, the Chinese government was not exactly pleased with this development and Cardinal Kung never returned to his homeland. It is easier, I suppose, to sympathise with Cardinal Kung than with Bishop Jin. However, Bishop Jin suffered greatly and endured many hardships as well.
Bishop Jin, on the other hand, remained in China. As the Communists took power, he served as rector of the seminary. He held positions of great responsiblity in the diocese. He spoke a number of languages, including French, German, and English. Like Cardinal Kung and most, if not all of the clergy of the Diocese of Shanghai, he was imprisoned and tortured. He spent many years in prison, though he later received lighter treatment, thanks to his foreign language skills. When he was released, he was asked to take an active part in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He resumed his role as rector of the seminary. He was also ordained a bishop, albeit without Rome’s blessing.
Ordaining a bishop without papal approval is a big thing. It is one of those things for which excommunication is imposed, both for the bishop being ordained with papal approval and for those who ordained him. However, Bishop Jin took it on, feeling perhaps it would be better than to have someone else even more in the pocket of the Communist Party. During his time as bishop, he was able to work with the authorities. His accomplishments are impressive. Not only was the cathedral restored and reopened, but he recovered some 150 parishes. He had a growing seminary and uniquely in a country where the print media is generally owned by the state, his own printing press. He was an adroit enough politician to accomplish all this. In doing so, he had to work within the strictures imposed by the party and make concessions that many faithful Catholics would be uncomfortable making. In a 2010 interview, he admitted to being both “a serpent and a dove”. The ways in which he accomplished all this are not reccommended, at least from the perspective of Canon Law. He had to work with an anti-religious government and under the ever watchful eye of the party. All the while, he was soliciting funds from overseas to rebuild the church in Shanghai. However, Bishop Jin has long insisted that China is a special case. As he once said, the Vatican though he was too close to the government and the government thought he was too close to the Vatican. Nevertheless, he was trusted by officials of the Communist Party, the State Administration of Religious Affairs, and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Adam Minter did a profile on Bishop Jin some time ago. You can read his latest profile on the late Bishop and his legacy for religious freedom in China. What he did manage to accomplish is remarkable, not only in the rebuilding of churches, but through getting the Pope to be remembered in all Masses and long after everyone else had switched from Latin to the vernacular, getting Masses said in Chinese. The government preferred that they still use Latin. In China, they now all use Chinese for Mass. You can read Adam Minter’s profile here. Dr Anthony Clark, who wrote the preface to his memoirs, interviewed Bishop Jin many times. You can read his profile of the late Bishop Jin here.
One wonders what will become of all of Bishop Jin’s labours. His successor, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin is still under house arrest and has not been seen since his episcopal ordination two years ago. Bishop Ma publicly stated at his ordination that he wished to resign from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the Community Party-established association which all Catholics are required to belong to in China. He was swiftly apprehended afterwards and taken to the seminary where he has been under the watchful eye of state security. They have stripped him of his title, though the Vatican refuses to recognize this, as only they have the authority to do so. Unfortunately, it seems that Catholics in China are once again at an impasse, given the new stricter guidelines required of all new bishops. New bishops now must publicly assent to the rule of the Communist Party and the socialist system of government. Hong Kong and Macau are separate cases. They have separate legal systems and while the party may be present, it dares not operate openly.
At some point, he was legitimised in his role as bishop. He died as a Catholic bishop in full communion with the Pope and as a member of the Society of Jesus.