Emeritus Archbishop Thomas Yeh, a former apostolic nuncio, presides over a Mass celebrating the 20th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop on Dec. 20. (ucanews.com photo)
Since his episcopal consecration 20 years ago, Taiwanese Emeritus Archbishop Thomas Yeh Sheng-nan has sought to have more of his countrymen serve as diplomats for the Holy See, one of many campaigns he has waged.
Although he has since stepped down, he was the first Chinese prelate appointed as an apostolic nuncio by the Holy See — a precedent that has inspired more Chinese priests to dream of working as diplomats for the church.
Before he retired in 2016, Archbishop Yeh suggested the Holy See select distinguished Chinese clerics studying in Rome to enter the diplomatic academy for training in this vocation.
Meanwhile, in celebrating the milestone anniversary of his ordination as a bishop on Dec. 20 in Taiwan, he opted for a low-key affair in tune with his humble nature.
He also gave thanks to the Lord for protecting him and blessing him with the power to not stray into temptation.
The prelate recalled how he had felt a higher power guide him to his vocation; how he had responded to rather than ignored this feeling; and how he had made a commitment to the church and established a lifelong covenant with God.
He said he had accepted God's plan and always moved forward on a step-by-step basis, even during times when he didn't understand why he was being compelled to follow a certain course of action.
"God will take care of everything", he said, adding he has dedicated his life to serving the church after deciding to put his faith in God.
After stepping down as an apostolic nuncio, he returned to Taiwan, where he has taken up residence at the Hsiao Ai Home for the Aged, run by the Chinese Dominican Sisters in Chaozhou Township of Pingtung County.
"Archbishop Yeh presides over Mass for the elderly every day," said Sister Matthaeus Hsu, director of the home. "Just as this marks the 46th anniversary of our home for senior citizens, we also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the bishop's ordination."
The emeritus archbishop was born in 1941 in Fengshan parish of Kaohsiung Diocese in southern Taiwan.
Prompted by his mother, who encouraged all her children to seek vocations, he entered St. Joseph Seminary in the diocese while still in his first year of high school.
At around the same time, Archbishop Yeh's elder twin sisters were admitted to another Catholic order, the Sheng Kung Sisters (SMIC).
While attending the seminary, he benefited from a request by its rector that the seminarians' training in Latin be strengthened. He later put this training to good use while studying philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome in 1964.
After he graduated, he was soon ordained as a priest in Rome. His original plan was to return to Taiwan, but the Second Vatican Council had just ended and the Holy See was actively seeking to internationalize the church's diplomatic personnel.
He was selected to study at the Vatican's diplomatic academy, leading him to embark on a new career path within the priesthood.
After having traveled to six of the seven continents and serving in more than a dozen countries, he began his life as a diplomat by assuming the post of secretary.
Before long, he was promoted to work as a counselor. Later, he was consecrated as an archbishop and became an apostolic nuncio, which led to stints serving in Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Algeria.
Because his mother was at an advanced age and unable to attend his ordination in Rome, Archbishop Yeh won permission from the Holy See to have the ceremony take place at the Minor Basilica-Cathedral of the Holy Rosary of Kaohsiung. It was presided over by a cardinal dispatched by the office of the pope.
During the ordination ceremony, Archbishop Yeh introduced some of his old classmates from the seminary. He said about two-thirds of the 30 seminarians he had studied with were unsuccessful in dedicating themselves to religious life.
But even though the majority had ventured along a different path, that decision did not diminish their vast contribution to society, he said.
"Many of my classmates have held important positions, for example as financial officers for large corporations, as procurement supervisors and as the heads of general administration at their respective schools," he said.
"If they wanted to make a great fortune, it would have been very easy. But they were not tempted [by the prospect of wealth] and were able to stay calm and peaceful until their retirement.
"There are many temptations facing bishops as well, but they don't fall into the traps that have been set as they encounter them. Everyone should thank God for his protection and for his blessing."
One of Archbishop Yeh's former classmates, Weng Ching-lin, serves as the president of a veterans' club for seminarians, a position he has held for decades.
Weng said that in 1998, when Archbishop Yeh's ordination was held at the Holy Rosary Church in Kaohsiung, 22 of their former classmates attended and helped organize the banquet.
He lamented the fact that only half of his classmates, now in their 80s, were still alive.