I was last in Biancun in 2014 when Victor brought Paco and me to meet with the administrator, and a lot has changed since then. There is now a new 5-story diocesan center, the bishop’s house, though the diocese has not a bishop yet. The diocesan offices are on the ground floor, and the other floors are rooms for the more than 100 priests of the diocese when they come for their regular retreats or meetings. Clerics who reside in the center and who work in the different diocesan offices have an anteroom next to their bedroom. The two rooms combined are actually bigger than Paco’s previous apartment in Xinjiekou! Besides this year-old building, they are also building a new cathedral with space for parking on the ground floor. The old 1990 cathedral will soon be demolished once the new church is completed.
The diocese has some 30 major seminarians in Shijiazhuang alone, and they have 12 deacons preparing for ordination to the priesthood this year. Blessed with vocations, the administrator wants to give his seminarians not only sound theological formation but a strong formation in spirituality and pastoral ministry. He thinks of sending some of them to the Philippines, but is concerned that diocesan formation centers might be too laxed. Religious formation houses could be an option so that those students could share in the spirit of the religious institute, but that is one option he has to look into.