Chinese Catholic bishop who revived Church dies at 91

Bishop Ye suffered in communist labor camps and then led the reconstruction of the Diocese of Ankang

Bishop Jean-Baptiste Ye Ronghua. (File photo)

Posted: Aug 30, 2022 10:09 GMT

Updated: August 30, 2022 11:55 GMT

Bishop John Baptist Ye Ronghua, who led the rebuilding of the Catholic Church in the Ankang region of northwest China, has died. He was 91 years old.

Media reported that Bishop Ye passed away on August 28 due to age-related illnesses.

Bishop Ye served as Diocesan Administrator of Ankang from 1987 to 2000. He was ordained as the first Bishop of Ankang in 2000.

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Ankang, a city in China’s Shaanxi Province, witnessed a series of religious persecutions 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 into a Catholic family on June 6, 1931. He studied at seminaries run by Italian PIME missionaries and graduated in 1958 from a major seminary run by PIME in Kaifeng, Henan Province, in the center of 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 the Communist takeover of China in 1949, all foreign missionaries were expelled.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by its leader Mao Zedong has launched a murderous socio-political movement called the cultural revolution which lasted from 1966 until Mao’s death in 1976.

Back in Hanzhong, Ye found himself in a difficult situation. Like many others, CCP officials called him a “counter-revolutionary” and he was forcibly sent to a labor camp for “re-education.”

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

During the Cultural Revolution, Ankang Prefecture faced a precarious situation: church properties were confiscated, churches were destroyed, and very few priests remained.

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 December 10, 2000. He was recognized by both the state and the Vatican.

Despite his ill health, Bishop Ye continued to rebuild and renew the local church with a small Catholic community. The prefecture often suffered from financial problems.

Most of the Catholics in the region are farmers, workers and small entrepreneurs, and the rest are unemployed and retired. Many families barely earn enough to eat and can offer little to the Church.

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Martha J. Finley