Obituary: Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide

Days before the reunification of Hong Kong with the rest of China, Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide died in Peking of a heart attack. The bishop had worked on establishing links between the Roman Catholic Church in the former British colony and the government-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

For many years Zong had headed the CPA, the Church which broke away from the jurisdiction of the Vatican in the 1950s under pressure from the Chinese Communist government. Although he had suffered at the hands of the regime during the Cultural Revolution, Zong believed that compromise with the government and a national Catholic Church free of Vatican control were goals worth pursuing. As well as heading the CPA itself, he was also chairman of the Bishops' Conference of the CPA.

Zong was born in eastern Shandong province in 1917 into a family that could trace its Catholic roots back 200 years. After school and junior seminary in Zhoucun he entered the major seminary in the provincial capital Jinan in 1938, being ordained priest in 1943. He was then sent to work in a local village parish.

He served as vicar of the Zhoucun diocese from 1949 to 1958. These were turbulent times for the Catholic Church in the wake of the Communist takeover. All foreign missionaries were arrested and then expelled. Bishops, priests and lay people who remained faithful to the Vatican were imprisoned as the state moved to assert control over the Catholic Church. Those prepared to break their ties with the Vatican were allowed to form the Catholic Patriotic Association, which was under tight government control.

Zong's acceptance of a national Catholic Church soon led to promotion. He was consecrated Bishop of Zhoucun in June 1958, one of the first of the new bishops ordained without Vatican approval. However, this did not spare him as times got tougher. In the wake of the unleashing of the Cultural Revolution by fanatical Maoist students in 1966, Zong was one of the many clergy of all religious groups to be arrested. All China's churches were closed and religious books and artefacts were destroyed amid the frenzy of destruction. Zong was to spend the next decade at a reform-through- labour farm, not re-emerging until the late 1970s.

Following his release he resumed his church work at a time when life was getting easier for the government-approved religious groups, including the Patriotic Catholics. At the Third National Congress of the CPA, in May 1980, Zong was elected chairman of the organisation, indicating the trust placed in him by the state authorities.

He later became head of the national Catholic seminary in Beijing and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. From the late 1980s he was acting head of the Bishops' Conference, becoming its chairman in 1992. Zong's work - most of which was based in Peking - left him little time to care for his diocese of Jinan and Zhoucun.

Despite his high-profile position within the CPA, Zong was a timid and self-effacing figure. He was clearly not the person taking decisions in the organisation and his position as CPA leader meant that he was not often invited abroad by other Catholic organisations.

Last month, he welcomed to Peking a delegation of Hong Kong's leading Catholics, including Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Auxiliary Bishop John Tong Hon. The talks were polite, but delicate, and concentrated mainly on pastoral questions. More important, talks were held with government officials. The Hong Kong Catholic Church is determined to retain its links to the Vatican and neither the Hong Kong Church nor the Chinese authorities have proposed incorporating it into the CPA.

Although he did not rule out re-integration of the Patriotic Church into the world-wide Catholic Church, Zong stressed that this was impossible unless the Vatican ruled out interference in China's domestic affairs and ended its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, which China holds to be a rebel province. However, he did work to promote some of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council within the Patriotic Church.

Joseph Zong Huaide, priest: born Shandong province, China 1917; ordained priest 1943; Bishop of Zhoucun 1958-97; Chairman, Catholic Patriotic Association 1982- 97; died Peking 27 June 1997.

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