ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: October 17, 2016 10:26 AM GMT
A priest blesses the sick in northeast China. (ucanews.com photo)
Chinese Catholics were alarmed when three priests in mainland China died in three consecutive days with one more in critical condition and all below the average life expectancy.
Father Joseph Ge Xiangbing from Xian Country, 41, and Father Peter Liu Zhanfang from Baoding city, 65, passed away due to sudden illness on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8 respectively. Both were priests in northern Hebei province where there are an estimated one million Catholics.
Father Peter Li Bo from northeastern Heilongjiang province died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Oct. 7 aged 50, while Father Joseph Song Kexun from northwestern Shaanxi province, was hospitalized on Oct. 6 due to the exact same condition. Father Song, 44, is now receiving treatment in an intensive care ward.
Although Father Liu was older than the other three priests, his age was still below 74, the average life expectancy of men in China.
The successive deaths worried Catholics across China and many of them called for prayers on social media in the past week.
"I was shocked by the sad news. When losing these relatively young lives, it's time to think about the health of religious people in our church," said Father Joseph Wang in Shanxi province.
"We priests often do not get enough sleep since we have to wake up early to start our daily prayers and we work until very late at night. This can harm our health," said the priest, who is in his early 40s.
"Sometimes we become workaholics," he added. "Many priests have to celebrate more than three Masses on Sunday or on feast days in different locations which do not allow us to have proper meals on time."
He suggested that religious communities should ensure that their members have medical checks twice a year to prevent recessive diseases and also provide care for those who are sick or incapacitated.
"It seems costly but to care about the health of our religious people is to care about church's future," he said.
The probability of priests having cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases as well as diabetes is a worrying issue. Some priests eat unhealthy diets, drink alcohol and neglect exercise," said a blogger who uses the pen name, "God will take care."
At least one bishop and five diocesan priests have died below the average age in the past five years according to an article published by The Evangelization Group. They said that many more religious men and women have died without being recorded.
There is often a lack of support from the diocese and a lack of understanding from parishioners, the article said. It also advised that some priests should quit smoking and drinking and spend less time on their mobile phones.