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China's Underground Bishop Leon Yao Liang dies

One of the great and unsung heroes for religious freedom died reportedly on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009, inside China. The news of his passing is reaching the West this week.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation has this to say about 87-year-old Bishop Leon Yao Liang, who Chairman Mao imprisoned for 28 years:

Underground Catholic Bishop Leon Yao Liang, the auxiliary bishop of Xiwanzi in Hebei, died on December 30, 2009. He was 87. We have not yet learned of any funeral arrangements for his burial because the news of his death appears to have been tightly controlled by the Chinese authority. Bishop Yao was born in 1923 in Gonghui Village, Zhangbei County. He was ordained a priest in 1946. After ordination, he was assigned to various churches as assistant pastor. He was restricted in the region of Xiwanzi for his priestly duty by the Communist regime in the early 1950's, earning his livelihood from vegetable farming and from selling fire wood. In 1956, he was forced to enter labor camp, and in 1958, was sentenced to life imprisonment. His "crime" was to be in communion with the Pope and with the universal Catholic Church.

He was finally released from the prison in 1984 after 28 years in labor camps and prison. He was ordained a bishop on February 19, 2002 under a mandate from the Vatican.

The New York Times notes the bishop's passing and his continued influence on Catholic observance:

Short and stout, with a shock of white hair and a booming voice, Bishop Yao presided almost up to his death over daily Masses that drew hundreds and Sunday Masses that often attracted a thousand people. The Chinese authorities forbade him to carry out his administrative duties as bishop but did not overtly interfere with his clerical activities.

Despite all the speculation about basic change in China, repression at the grassroots level seems little changed. In its Jan. 4 news release, the Kung Foundation notes:

In the meantime, we learned that three underground Catholic priests from Xuanhua, Hebei, Fathers Zhang Cunhui age 46, Zhang Zhanglin age 45, and Liu (??) age 32 disappeared in June 2009. They are believed by the local Catholic community to have been kidnapped by the Government's agent and are now detained in an unknown location. Underground bishop of Xuanhua, Bishop Zhao Kexun, is now hiding under a government arrest warrant. Other priests are under intense pressure form the government to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, which is an independent government sponsored religious agent independent from the Vatican.
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Posted:January 8, 2010 at 5:12PM
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China's Underground Bishop Leon Yao Liang dies