The Chinese Communist officials interfered with the funeral of an elderly underground bishop, citing concerns with spreading the coronavirus. However, some Chinese Christians believe the government restricted the funeral due to the bishop’s faith.
According to UCA News, the burial of Bishop Joseph Ma Zhongmu, China’s oldest and only ethnic Mongolian bishop, was moved from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. by government officials. Authorities also restricted people from attending his funeral, only allowing 15 Catholics, a bishop, and two priests to attend.
Bishop Ma, who was not recognized by the government, died on March 25 at the age of 100. He died of an age-related illness, said an official communication from Ningxia Diocese.
The government cited restrictions in place against gatherings as a step to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China. However, local Catholics suggested the interference was due “to the identity of Bishop Ma.”
“Authorities blocked the entire street and no priest could approach it. They also did not allow participants to bring mobile phones or take pictures,” one source told UCA News.
Sources also pointed out that his obituary named him only as “Father Ma Zhongmu” as the late bishop belonged to the underground church, which is not officially recognized by China’s communist government.
Bishop Ma was sent to jail during the Cultural Revolution along with other Catholic priests and released in April 1979. Although he was not recognized by the government, he maintained good relations with the authorities, Christian Post.
The bishop, not recognized by the state, died on March 25 aged 100. He died of an age-related illness, said an official communication from Ningxia Diocese.
Bishop Ma, who was ordained bishop of Ningxia in 1983, led the diocese in the northwest of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region until his retirement in 2005.
He had been ailing for the past two years after he was diagnosed with pulmonary edema, Father John of Ningxia Diocese told UCA News.
In recent years, China has upped its persecution of Christians, destroying churches, burning down crosses, and restricting religious expression online in efforts to “sinicize” religion, or bring it into unity with Communist Chinese culture.
Additionally, numerous reports have emerged of authorities across China enforcing policies that prohibit religious customs and rituals to be used during funerals.
In December, the government of Wenzhou city’s Pingyang county in the eastern province of Zhejiang adopted the Regulations on Centralized Funeral Arrangement.
Under the new rules, “clerical personnel are not allowed to participate in funerals,” and “no more than ten family members of the deceased are allowed to read scriptures or sing hymns in a low voice.”
The new rules aim to “get rid of bad funeral customs and establish a scientific, civilized, and economical way of funerals.”