An old Chinese adage holds that an elderly person at home is a family treasure. At the age of 100, Father Michael Li Minghan of Hongtong diocese has certainly proved his immense value to many of the young priests and faithful in his neighborhood. They turned out in numbers on September 29 - also the feast of St Michael - to celebrate Fr. Li’s life and countless contributions to the Church.
Born in 1911, he decided as a teenager to devote his life in service to God. This was a tumultuous time in China’s history and the Catholic Church there was enduring one of its most difficult periods.
Fr Li entered the major seminary in 1935 but had to suspend his studies at the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was 1941 before he was finally ordained as a priest.
During the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, he was sentenced to “reform through labor" in a village near Hongtong. When religious activities resumed, he served in the parish of Zhuangyuan from 1980 until his retirement in 1993.
Father Wang, a young priest in the diocese, said Fr Li had made a substantial impact on the clergy with his many published writings. One of the most popular is The Faithful Servant of God, a biography of Bishop Francis Han Tingbi, first bishop of Hongtong from 1950 to 1991.
“This small book helps laypeople know the life of the bishop as well as the diocese’s history,” said Fr Wang. “It helps readers understand the contributions of the older generation and feel their own responsibility to serve the Church.”
Fr Li was also a prolific diarist and, with the help of his nephew, he published part of his diary under the title A Decade of Pastoral Work, which chronicles many of the joys and sorrows of his pastoral work.
“Fr Li’s observations on society have also benefited younger members of the clergy,” said Fr Wang. “Besides daily prayers, he likes reading newspapers and magazines. His strength in observing and comparing current situations in and outside China has enriched his pastoral work.”
“He has what we call his own special method of evangelization: one hand holds the Bible, another hand holds a newspaper.”
Although he never held any key posts in the diocese, Fr Li was refused retirement on several occasions by Bishop Han, because of his outstanding work.
However, Fr Wang says, “Fr Li knew when it was a good time to retire. To a certain extent, he thinks one needs to give way to others. This is especially true of people holding important Church positions. They should know when it is time to step down.”
This theme was taken up enthusiastically by some of the other young priests there. “We work for the glory of God instead of personal interest,” said one. “So we should follow God’s will in our work. Sometimes people hold firm to their posts as they think the parish or diocese might be paralyzed if they leave.”
Another said “our Church would truly grow to maturity and the Church in China would turn a new page, if only we learned when it is time to hand over to our successors.”
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