Bishop Paolo Ma Cunguo

by Bernardo Cervellera

July 22 2020

In little more than a month, he is the third underground bishop to be made official. The installation ceremony presided over by the head of the Patriotic Association and the bishop of Taiyuan. Msgr. Ma swears oath without reference to joining an “independent Church”.


ROME – Msgr. Paolo Ma Cunguo, hitherto only recognised as a bishop by the Holy See for the diocese of Shouzhou (North Shanxi), has now been officially recognised by the Chinese government. The official installation ceremony was held on July 9. The installation – with which the bishop, already belonging to the so-called underground Church, became part of the official Church – took place with the reading of the approval of his episcopate by the Patriotic Association and the Council of Official Bishops (an organisation not recognized by the Holy See as underground bishops are not included).

After reading the act of approval, Msgr. Ma Cunguo also read a very special oath (see below). This part of the ceremony was presided over by the head of the Shanxi Patriotic Association, the deputy director of the provincial administrative committee and by Bishop Meng Ningyou of the diocese of Taiyuan. Mass followed presided by Msgr. Ma Cunguo.

Bishop Ma becomes the third unofficial bishop to be recognized by the government in just over a month after the official installation of Msgr. Pietro Li Huiyuan of Fengxiang and on June 9 that of Msgr. Pietro Lin Jiashan of Fuzhou.

The diocese of Shouzhou has over 10 thousand faithful, a dozen priests and nuns. Bishop Ma, ordained in 2004 (only 33 years old) by his predecessor Msgr. Bonaventura Luo Juan, is known as a person who has long wanted government recognition.

The Agreement between China and the Vatican on new episcopal appointments has facilitated the transition. Other “underground” dioceses in Fujian, Zhejiang, Henan, Hebei, Guangdong, Heilongjiang, find it difficult to take this step, first of all because of the government authorities harshness towards the unofficial communities and also because the authorities have set membership and support for an “independent Church” and a ban on educating young people under the age of 18 to faith as a precondition for recognition.

The Vatican document on the Guidelines for the civil registration of the clergy, which dilutes the concept of “independent Church”, is too ambiguous for many faithful and bishops.

This ambiguity is also evident in the installation ceremony of Msgr. Ma Cunguo. While the official account of the ceremony says that the bishop “adheres to the independent and self-governed Church”, the oath of Msgr. Ma does not contain this term, rather it speaks of adherence to the “Holy and One Church handed down by the Apostles”. At the same time, the bishop promised to “respect the Constitution, safeguard the unity of the country and social harmony, love the country and the Church”. For years, in fact, official and underground Catholics have been saying that a “good Catholic” is also a “good citizen”.

Here is the text of the oath sworn by Msgr. Ma Cunguo:

“Act of oath

I, the undersigned Paolo Ma Cunguo, according to the wise dispositions of the Lord our God, have been appointed bishop of the diocese of Shuozhou, although I did not feel worthy of this task, I humbly respond to the call of God and to the responsibilities of the bishop.

I will respect God’s commandments, I will fulfill the responsibilities of the episcopal office, I will proclaim the Gospel faithfully, remaining faithful to the Holy, One Church handed down by the Apostles, I will work to build the Body of Christ – the Church, giving my life to the pastoral mission of announcing the Gospel.

I will respect the teachings of the Apostle St. Peter, I will guide the priests and faithful of the diocese to respect the Constitution, safeguard the unity of the country and social harmony, love the country and the Church, following the guideline of the sinicization of Catholicism in China, contributing to the realization of the Chinese Dream.

Sworn: Ma Cunguo

On 9 July 2020 ” – Asia News