Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Yesterday's New York Times reported that Roman Catholic Bishop Leo Yao Liang, who spent 28 years in Chinese prisons during Mao’s rule for his refusal to renounce his allegiance to the Vatican, died on December 30 in Xiwanzi, a town in north China's Hebei Province. According to the Times, Bishop Yao was 87 and had been ill with a severe cold for about two weeks before his death.
After the Communist Party took power in China in 1949, it outlawed Catholicism. Accordingly, Bishop Yao's religious work came under heavy government scrutiny. In 1956, the government sent him to a labor camp; in 1958 he was sentenced to prison for life after refusing to abandon his allegiance to the Vatican.
Yet, Bishop Yao presided almost up to his death over daily open-air Masses that drew hundreds of worshipers, and Sunday Masses that often attracted a thousand people. The Chinese authorities forbade him to carry out his administrative duties as bishop but did not overtly interfere with his clerical activities.
The Times continues:
China’s government does not recognize the Roman Catholic Church or its bishops. Instead, it promotes a government-affiliated faith, the Patriotic Catholic Association. But millions of Chinese are believed to remain loyal to the Vatican and attend so-called underground churches like those that Bishop Yao led. There are reported to be 15,000 Catholic worshipers in Xiwanzi diocese, where he was secretly made an auxiliary bishop in 2002.
For years after his release from prison in 1984, Mr. Song said, Bishop Yao urged his parishioners to follow a course of quiet but steadfast opposition both to the Patriotic Catholic Association and to government restrictions on their right to worship. But after Pope Benedict XVI made improved relations between the Vatican and Beijing a priority, he said, Bishop Yao began working to repair relations with the government.
Bishop Yao's week-long funeral concludes with his burial today.
May he rest in peace.