Mgr Yang’s ordination was approved by the Holy See and recognised by the Chinese government. The investiture ceremony was held yesterday in the courtyard of Xiaoqiaopan Catholic Church in Jingbian County, 130 kilometres from Yan’an, and drew more than 6,000 Catholics, 110 priests and 80 nuns.
All nine bishops present were also Vatican-approved and Chinese government-recognised. Bishop Aloysius Yu Runchen of Hanzhong was the consecrator. Bishop Dang Mingyan of Xi’an and Bishop Han Yingjin of Sanyuan acted as his co-consecrators.
The ordinary of Yulin (Yan’an) Bishop Tong Hui, 76, who has been paralysed since March 2009, concelebrated the ordination Mass for a short while before leaving because of poor health.
Bishops Tong Changping of Weinan, Han Jide of Pingliang, Li Jing of Ningxia, Zong Huaide of Sanyuan and Huo Cheng of Fenyang were the other bishops who concelebrated.
The new bishop, who is vice-deputy rector of the Xi’an Seminary, told AsiaNews that he wants to focus on unity and on educating to the faith priests and believers, most of whom come from rural areas in northern Shaanxi.
Mgr Yang, who is originally from Zhouzhi Diocese, has already been working in his new diocese for the past few weeks. Last month he visited 70 per cent of the 40 parishes, gathering ideas to develop the diocese.
“Church life in the countryside is quite different,” Bishop Yang noted. “Local Catholics are scattered and mostly reside in the mountains. Priests usually go to their villages to administer sacraments,” he said. “Only about 10 per cent are churchgoers,” he noted.
Yulin diocese is home to some 60,000 Catholics served by 21 priests and 29 sisters.
Mgr Yang is famous because he was the first Chinese priest ordained after seminaries were re-opened in the 1980s to earn a doctoral degree. He studied abroad for a decade, getting a doctorate in 1999.
Born in a Catholic family in Zhouzhi County in 1964, Yang studied at the Zhouzhi seminary in 1984-1989. He was ordained a priest in 1991 when he was studying in Shaanxi universities.
In 1993-1999, he studied and earned a licentiate and a doctorate in theology from Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome.
In 2002, he graduated with a master’s degree in religion-sociology and became a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC.
After that, he returned to Zhouzhi diocese to serve in a parish where he founded a centre for training and research. He is now vice-rector and dean of studies of Shaanxi seminary in Xi’an.
“I will continue to teach at the seminary, but will focus more on my diocesan matters,” he said.
Catholicism was introduced into Yan’an by Spanish Franciscans in 1911. In 1924, the first apostolic vicariate of Yan’an was erected and elevated to a diocese in 1946.
The Yan’an diocese was renamed Yulin diocese 17 years ago.
Yan’an has an important place in the history of Chinese Communism. It is here that Mao ended his ‘Long March’. Until the victory of the revolution, the city was a hotbed of revolutionary activities.
In 1982, it was classified as a historical and cultural city. The city’s Qiao’ergou Church, once used for meetings of Communist leaders, was listed as an historic monument.
Former bishops of Yulin (Yan’an) include Franciscan Caelestinaus Aparicio Ibanez (1924-1949), Li Xuande (1951-1972) and Wang Zhenye (1991-1999).