Beijing (AsiaNews) – Coadjutor Bishop Leo Yao Liang of Xiwanzi, Hebei province, died in hospital Dec. 30 at the age of 86, almost one year after his release from a 30-month detention. Authorities have tightened security ahead of his funeral.
Meanwhile the ordinary Bishop Hou Jinli 93, is quite ill, suffering from diabetes. Both prelates are not recognized by the government-sanctioned open Church in China.
The death of Bishop Yao has left 94 bishops alive in mainland China - 38 from the underground and 56 from the official Church, according to Anthony Lam, senior researcher of Holy Spirit Study Centre in the Hong Kong diocese. Speaking to AsiaNews, he adds that seven bishops in China - three from underground (including Yao) and four from the official Church - passed away, in 2009.
Despite heavy snow in northern China, thousands of local Catholics are expected to attend Bishop Yao’s funeral Mass at Xiwanzi town church, Chongli county, Hebei province, on Jan. 6. Local sources say public security has been tightened, preventing people from outside the county from attending the funeral.
Government officials only recognized Bishop Yao as a priest and as such will only permit the funeral for priest not for a bishop. Only three priests of the diocese are allowed to celebrate the funeral Mass, and local Catholics are not allowed to issue a Church obituary on the prelate.
Bishop Yao was brought away by police in July 2006 and was returned to the church on Jan. 25, 2009, the Chinese New Year Eve, after a 30-month detention (see. 03/08/2006 Hebei: bishop, priest and 90 unofficial Catholics arrested). Since then, the prelate had been under close surveillance. Bishop Hou in near by Zhangbei county is also closely monitored. Despite this Bishop Yao had started to build a church in Xiwanzi, and its foundation has just been laid.
Born in 1923, Yao was ordained a priest in 1948 and clandestinely ordained coadjutor bishop in 2002. His body will be buried in the clergy graveyard, about 10 minutes from the Xiwanzi church, in which the last Bishop Melchior Zhang Kexing of Xiwanzi who died in 1988, and other priests were buried.
Succeeding Bishop Zhang, Bishop Hou was clandestinely ordained a bishop in 1984. Hou was born in 1916 and ordained a priest in 1943.