10/14/2021, 09.27
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Handan's Bishop Emeritus Yang Xiangtai has died

The 99 year-old prelate had been hospitalized for days in a serious condition.  He was trained and worked together with the PIME fathers of Kaifeng and Weihui. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison during the Cultural Revolution. An ordinary bishop since 1999, he never easily submitted to the "patriotism" of the religious authorities linked to the Chinese Communist Party.


Beijing (AsiaNews) - At 8pm last night (local time) Bishop Stephen Yang Xiangtai, bishop emeritus of Handan, died. AsiaNews had reported his hospitalization and the serious deterioration of his health. Msgr. Yang passed away at Weixian hospital, in the territory of his diocese. He was 99 years old.

It is a painful loss not only for the Church in China, but also for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), because Msgr. Yang grew, recieved his priestly formation and worked together with the PIME fathers of Kaifeng and Weihui (now Anyang) in Henan. He always remembered them warmly.  

Bishop Yang was born on January 3, 1923 (November 17, 1922 according to the lunar calendar) in the village of Gaocun, into a Catholic family that baptized him immediately after his birth. At the time, the village was part of the diocese of Weihui (now in the diocese of Handan), which was under the care of PIME missionaries.

After attending the Catholic pre-school in his village, Bishop Yang studied at the Catholic elementary school in Wu'an from 1933; two years later he entered the minor seminary of the diocese of Weihui. In 1940 he began studying philosophy and theology at the regional seminary of Kaifeng.  On August 27, 1949 he was ordained a priest by the local archbishop, Msgr. Gaetano Pollio, a PIME missionary. After his ordination, he worked as an assistant at Nanguan Church in Kaifeng.

At the end of 1950, another PIME missionary, Msgr. Mario Civelli, bishop of Weihui, assigned him to the Wu'an district. In the spring of 1954, the police arrested Yang, but after his trial he was able to resume his ministry. In July 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, he was again arrested. He was not tried until October 1970 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. For his criminal "re-education" he was first imprisoned in the labor camps of Quzhou; later he ended up in the brick factory of Handan and finally in the salt factory of Tangshan.

After the launch of Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening up (late 1978), Yang was rehabilitated and released on March 15, 1980, acquitted of all charges. He ministered in the districts of Handan, Cixian, Shexian and Wu'an, areas that with the new administrative division had passed into the province of Hebei and the official diocese of Handan. In 1988 he became rector of the diocesan seminary and chaplain of the Congregation of the Consolation of the Holy Spirit. Bishop Chen Bailu then appointed him vicar general of the diocese.

On November 30, 1996, Bishop Chen consecrated Yang his coadjutor bishop in the church of Caozhuang, Yongnian District. On September 17, 1999, upon Msgr. Chen's retirement, Msgr. Yang became the ordinary bishop of Handan Diocese.

On June 21, 2011, in Feixiang Church, he consecrated Msgr. Joseph Sun Jigen as his coadjutor bishop. He did this in secret, a few days before the official date: it was to avoid that the consecration ceremony, already approved by both the Holy See and the Chinese authorities, was presided over by an illegitimate bishop. 

The public announcement of his death by the Diocese of Handan states: "Bishop Yang showed strong fidelity to the Lord, kindness to all, simplicity of life and constant dedication to his flock, and this for 72 years. Now that he has completed his journey, we invite clergy, sisters and faithful to pray for his soul to rest in peace and to intercede for his prompt entrance into eternal rest."

Bishop Yang was not an "underground" bishop, but he never easily submitted to the "patriotism" of religious authorities linked to the Chinese Communist Party. For example, in 2015 he supported the courageous protests of the clergy of Wenzhou against the demolition of crosses in Zhejiang Province.

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