06/18/2024, 18.04
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Yunnan mourns Fr Huang Guirong, a priest beyond all chains

The former apostolic administrator of Kunming and two other dioceses passed away; he was in his nineties. He was seminarian in 1949 when the Communists took over, and had to wait until 1995 to be ordained a priest after spending many years in prison and working in a factory. Highly respected by all, he “led a simple and hard life.”

Kunming (AsiaNews) – He had to wait more than forty years before becoming a priest, spending  decades in prison and in factories, without ever ceasing to nurture his vocation. He lived until the end, serving his flock in Yunnan.

This encapsulates the history of Catholicism in China, its many wounds and extraordinary capacity for rebirth, taking the human form of Fr James Huang Guirong, the former apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Kunming, who died Sunday evening in Leping County in his nineties.

Born into a Catholic family on 25 July 1933 (or 1932) in Huaping County, Lijiang, the youngest after two sisters, he studied as a child at the local parish school, and then entered the seminary in Kunming.

In 1949, when the Communists seized power, the seminary was shut down, yet the seed of vocation that Huang Guirong, still in his teens, carried in his heart would prove to be stronger than any trial.

In 1953, with the consent of Fr Louis He Dezong, apostolic administrator in Kunming after the forced departure of Archbishop Alexandre Derouineau, a French missionary with the MÉP, the young James studied theology and philosophy for a while at the cathedral.

But two years later he was forced to go to work as a labourer in a car repair shop. This did not stop him though from getting actively involved in the local Catholic community.

For this very reason in 1966, when the new storm of the Cultural Revolution swept in, he was arrested and spent more than ten years in prison.

Released in 1978, he returned to work at a farm machinery shop in Mile County. When the latter closed in 1986, he continued to live in the village of Xiaomabu working as a carpenter.

It is said that in those years, when China experienced its first timid openings, he preached the Gospel while doing his work.

In 1994, after about a year of training with Fr Louis He Dezong, he was considered ready to become a priest. Fr He too was sent to labour camps during the Cultural Revolution, but afterwards, patiently rebuilt the local Church.

Fr Huang’s long-awaited ordination occurred on 4 June 1995 at the cathedral of Zhaotong, by the hands of Bishop Matthew Chen Muchen, then 92 years old, who passed away just two years later.

The apostolic administrator, Fr He Dezong, assigned him to the village of Lefeng, in Qujing district.

Then, in February 2012, following the death of Fr Zhang Wenchang, who had replaced Fr He Dezong at the head of the community of Kunming and of other two dioceses of Yunnan, Fr Huang became the apostolic administrator.

This occurred at a difficult time after the official bodies controlled by the Communist party imposed the episcopal ordination of a young priest, Fr Ma Yinglin, without the mandate of the Holy See.

Pope Francis healed the rift only in 2018, when Bishop Ma was readmitted to full ecclesial communion, along with six other Chinese prelates who had been illicitly ordained like him, as part of the Provisional Agreement between Rome and Beijing on the appointment of bishops.

Amid all this, the former apostolic administrator always remained an exemplary figure for all.

"Fr James was a highly respected priest in the Church of Yunnan,” reads the biographical note sent to AsiaNews together with the news of his death. He “led a simple and hard life, and was meticulous, conscientious, and responsible in his pastoral work.

“In today's materialistic society, to be able to maintain such a state of purity and remain undefiled is a God-given miracle of our time.”

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