The Vatican announced Thursday that two bishops from mainland China will attend next month’s synod on synodality.
Bishop Anthony Yao Shun and Bishop Joseph Yang Yongqiang were listed as papal nominees on an updated list of synod delegates published Sept. 21.
Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, told journalists at a Holy See press office briefing that Pope Francis had selected the two bishops from a list approved by the Chinese authorities.
Yao is the 57-year-old leader of the Diocese of Jining in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He studied liturgy at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, in the 1990s.
After returning to China, he played prominent roles in the country’s liturgical commission, which is overseen by the state-managed Catholic Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, which is not recognized by the Vatican.
The Vatican reportedly approved Yao’s appointment as Bishop of Jining in 2010, but he was not ordained as bishop of the diocese until 2019, when he became the first bishop to be consecrated following the 2018 provisional agreement between China and the Holy See.
Yongqiang is the 53-year-old Bishop of Zhoucun in China’s eastern Shandong province. He was ordained coadjutor bishop of the diocese in 2010 with Vatican approval and took up the leadership of the diocese in 2013. He was reportedly elected vice-president of the Catholic Patriotic Association in 2016.
The updated list also includes a priest from mainland China: Fr. Andrea Ding Yang of the Archdiocese of Chongqing, southwestern China.
When organizers released a provisional list of synod participants in June, it did not include any delegates from mainland China.
There were two delegates listed under the rubric of “Cina” (China) on the Italian-language list: Bishop Norbert Pu Yingxiong of Kiayi, Taiwan, and Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow Sau-yan, S.J., of Hong Kong.
Bishop Pu, Taiwan’s first indigenous bishop, is described on the updated list as representing the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference of Taiwan, his country’s bishops’ conference.
Prelates from the People’s Republic of China attended an assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the first time in 2018, following the signing of the provisional agreement.
The two delegates were Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of Yan’an and Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Chengde. Guo was ordained bishop without Vatican approval in 2010, but was recognized as part of the Vatican-China deal.
Reports noted that Pope Francis almost wept as he welcomed the two bishops at the start of the youth synod.
“Today, for the first time, we have also with us two bishops from mainland China. We offer them our warm welcome: the communion of the entire episcopate with the Successor of Peter is yet more visible thanks to their presence,” the pope said.
Pope John Paul II had invited two Chinese bishops to attend 1998’s Special Assembly for Asia, but they were unable to take part.
Pope Benedict XVI unsuccessfully invited four Chinese bishops to the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005.
Vatican officials are likely to see the attendance of bishops from mainland China as a positive sign on the eve of the provisional agreement’s fifth anniversary, especially given recent breaches of the deal by the Chinese authorities.
AsiaNews, the press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, noted that the Chinese government has prevented the country’s bishops from attending events outside mainland China since the coronavirus pandemic.
It said that no mainland bishops were present at the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences’ 50th-anniversary general conference in Thailand in 2022 or at Asian events connected to the global synodal process.
It also recalled that Chinese bishops were refused permission to travel to Mongolia for Pope Francis’ visit earlier this month, including Bishop Yao, who leads a diocese with historically close ties to the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.
Editor’s note: This report was updated Sept. 22, 2023, with further details about Taiwan’s Bishop Pu and a reference to Fr. Andrea Ding Yang of the Archdiocese of Chongqing.