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Chinese Catholic bishop who revived Church dies at 91

Bishop Ye suffered in the Communist labor camps and then led the reconstruction of the Ankang Diocese
Bishop John Baptist Ye Ronghua.

Bishop John Baptist Ye Ronghua. (File photo)

Published: August 30, 2022 11:55 AM GMT

Bishop John Baptist Ye Ronghua, who led the reconstruction of the Catholic Church in northwestern China's Ankang area, has passed away. He was 91.

Media reports said Bishop Ye died on Aug. 28 of age-related ailments.

Bishop Ye served as the diocesan administrator of Ankang from 1987 to 2000. He was ordained as the first bishop of Ankang in 2000.

Ankang, a city in China's Shaanxi province, witnessed a series of religious persecution during the Cultural Revolution when the Church was suppressed. 

The Apostolic Prefecture of Ankang was established in 1928. The mission was under the Italian Conventual Franciscans until all foreign missionaries were expelled in the 1950s.

Ye was born in a Catholic family on June 6, 1931. He studied in seminaries run by Italian PIME missionaries and graduated in 1958 from a PIME-run major seminary in Kaifeng, Henan province, central China.

Ye returned to Hanzhong the same year, but his ordination to the priesthood was delayed due to political movements that targeted the Church.

After communists took over China in 1949, all foreign missionaries were expelled.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by its leader Mao Zedong launched a deadly socio-political movement called the Cultural Revolution that lasted from 1966 to Mao’s death in 1976.

Back in Hanzhong, Ye found himself in a tough situation. Like many others, CCP officials branded him a “counter-revolutionary” and he was forced into a labor camp for “re-education.”

Ye was finally ordained a priest in 1982, at age of 51, after the religions were allowed to revive.

During the Cultural Revolution, Ankang prefecture faced a precarious situation: Church properties were confiscated, churches were destroyed and very few priests were left.

Bishop Anthony Li Du'an of Xi'an administered Ankang in 1988. He ordained nine young priests from 1990 to 1999, restored three churches, and opened two clinics.

He also ordained Bishop Ye as the first Chinese bishop of Ankang on Dec. 10, 2000. He was recognized by both state and the Vatican.

Despite his poor health, Bishop Ye continued the reconstruction and revival of the local church with a small Catholic community. The prefecture often suffered from financial problems.

Most Catholics in the area are farmers, workers, and small businessmen, and the others are unemployed and retirees. Many families barely earn enough to feed themselves and can offer little to the Church.

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